Additional European Countries Report Bird Flu

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The appearance of avian influenza in wild birds has been confirmed in several European nations in recent days. Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece all confirm reports of a disease that has traveled from Southeast Asia.

Austria and Denmark continued laboratory testing February 15 to verify whether the disease also killed wild birds found in their jurisdictions.

The European Commission – the policy implementation body for the European Union - is calling for affected states to adopt precautionary measures, including the establishment of a 3-kilometer protection zone around areas where dead animals are found, and a surrounding surveillance zone of 10 kilometers in which poultry must be kept indoors and poultry movement is banned.

Croatia, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine are among the other European-Eurasian nations that have detected H5N1 over recent months, according to reports on file with the Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Outside of East Asia, Turkey and Iraq are the only nations in which this highly pathogenic form of avian influenza has leapt to the human population.

In Turkey, 12 human cases of the disease were confirmed with four deaths. In Iraq, one death has been confirmed. In both nations, further human cases of disease suspected to be H5N1 are undergoing testing.

As the report of H5N1 in dead wild swans in Italy was confirmed, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations emphasized February 13 that this form of avian influenza is predominantly an animal disease, and cautioned against panic about human exposure through the food chain.

Of the 169 human cases now confirmed by the World Health Organization, virtually all have been traced to close contact between humans and animals.

These exposures occur most frequently in areas where backyard flocks of birds are common. Poultry and humans share the same spaces, children play in the same yards and slaughtering a bird for a meal is routine.

Such practices are not common in most of Europe and other developed nations, so it is thought that the chance for transmission to humans by birds is much smaller if the virus appears in domesticated poultry.

So far, most European nations report the appearance of H5N1 in wild birds only, according to OIE reports, and broad infections of farm animals have not occurred.

In Russia, highly pathogenic avian influenza was detected in poultry at large-scale farming operations, prompting broad containment and culling operations. No disease has appeared in Russian domestic flocks since October 2005.

Large domestic flocks are infected in Nigeria, which became the first African country to report an outbreak February 8.

Nigeria lacks broad veterinary capabilities for detection and containment of disease in animal populations, so the United States is providing assistance in the West African outbreak.

U.S. specialists are joining teams of animal and human health experts from international organizations and the Nigerian government to help test bird samples and ensure that animal and human surveillance are effective. (See related article.)

The United States made its commitment to averting a global influenza pandemic in 2005, with formation of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza.

More than 120 countries are working together to develop national preparedness plans, train personnel, expand disease surveillance, and detect and contain influenza outbreaks.

More information on reported outbreaks is available on the Web sites of the Organisation for Animal Health and the World Health Organization.

For additional information on the disease and efforts to combat it, see Bird Flu.