Europe Braces for Possible Spread of Bird Flu

The highly pathogenic H5N1 virus has now been discovered in at least nine villages in eastern Romania. The latest cases were confirmed after tests at a British laboratory, reports said.

"Flocks of migratory birds are heading to the northern parts of Bulgaria," Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur told reporters, citing latest ornithologists' findings. "We sent a notification to the Bulgarian embassy."

This situation is becoming alarming because the Danube delta is Europe's largest wetlands and is situated on a main migratory route for wild birds that fly south each Winter from Scandinavia and Russia to northern Africa. These flocks could infect domestic fowl when they mingle.

Flutur said the virus appeared to be edging westwards to poultry in more densely populated areas but was unlikely to hit big cities like Romania's capital Bucharest because it spread only when migratory birds came into contact with domestic fowl.

In response to the concern, Bulgarian officials said precautionary measures against were being taken against the spread of the virus. The country has stepped up monitoring in poultry farms and wetlands for possible cases. It has also banned poultry imports from affected countries such as Romania and Ukraine.

Alexander Alexandrov, director of the state veterinarian office in northern Bulgaria, said birds had yet to land at their usual winter stopover at two lakes near the Black Sea, which is shared by Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Russia and Turkey.

"We can protect the country. The migration of possibly infected birds is not that fatal; what is important is to prevent direct contact between domestic and wild fowl," Alexandrov pointed out. "We have issued orders for farmers to keep domestic birds indoors. We have also demanded higher sanitary standards at poultry farms to avoid the possible spread of the disease."

Romania has set aside around $700,000 for compensation for farmers affected by the virus. Some 60,000 domestic birds have been culled and farmers are banned from selling live poultry anywhere in the country.

Anticipating the westward migration of birds, Italy said this week that it is preparing to deal with outbreaks of bird flu and has an emergency plan in case the virus spreads to humans and then among humans.

In Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, which has been attempting to contain the situation since Dec. 3, the Emergency Situations Ministry said it has culled 56,322 birds as of today, completing the work in seven villages. Authorities have paid 1.18 million hryven ($234,000) in compensation, the Ministry said. The infection has not been transmitted beyond the peninsula to continental Ukraine.

Farm ministers from Germany, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Moldova plan to meet in Bucharest, Romania, in early February to discuss joining forces to fight the disease.


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