Avian influenza establishes foothold in EU

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Avian influenza, Influenza

Get ready for the impact of avian influenza, as the disease has
been conclusively found in wild birds in Greece, Italy, Bulgaria,
Slovenia and Azerbaijan over the weekend.

The slow spread westward of avian influenza has already resulted in four deaths in Turkey this year and a plunge in poultry consumption over fears over the transmission of the disease to humans.

The first ever confirmed deaths of humans due to bird flu outside of Asia makes for a dismal prognosis for European poultry processors who face both a narrowing of their supply sources and a fall in consumption demand. Poultry consumption in Europe was just rebounding after plummeting briefly when avian flu influenza was discovered in flocks in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Turkey and Greece.

For example by poultry consumption fell by between 30 per cent to 40 per cent in Italy, with lesser falls occurring in other countries the EU's poultry association reported in October and November. Bans on imports of birds from affected countries also cut down the sources of supplies for food manufacturers.

In Spain, the bird flu scare resulted in a short-lived reduction in poultry meat consumption during late October and early November. By the third week of November poultry consumption had rebounded to top that of the previous year by 13 per cent, the Spanish government said.

Over the weekend Italy's health authorities imposed controls on the movement of poultry after the H5N1 form of the virus, which is transmissible to humans, was detected in five dead wild swans in the south of the country.

The outbreak in Italy marks the most westerly point the virus has reached in Europe.

Greece and Bulgaria have also established controls in the regions where wild birds have been found to be infected. The Greek authorities informed the European Commission earlier on 8 February that avian influenza virus H5 was found in three swans found dead in the Thessaloniki and Pieria.

The Commission said movements of poultry from the affected area to other holdings or for slaughter will be subjected to rigorous additional controls.

Member states have been preparing for the eventuality of avian influenza being detected in wild birds in the EU. Early warning measures are in place in all member states to ensure an early detection of the disease, both in domestic and wild birds.

Contingency plans call for the rapid control and eradication of avian influenza should it occur in poultry farms.

Slovenia has also imposed controls after authorities a dead swan also tested positive near the country's border with Austria. Azerbaijan said on Friday it had also discovered the H5N1 strain in wild birds on the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan has borders with Turkey, Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia.

Now H5N1 avian influenza is in Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa, along with its original starting point in east Asia. The disease has led to the culling of millions of poultry.

Four people have died of the disease in the country so far, the first ocurrances of the human form of H5N1 infection outside of Asia. Last month the European Union banned live animals and animal products from Northern Cyprus after H5N1 was detected in wild birds on the island.

Since the latest outbreak began in December 2003, avian flu has killed more than 80 people in four Southeast Asian countries and killed or led to culling of an estimated 200 million birds across the region and in Turkey and Russia.

Poultry sales in Turkey have dropped by 70 per cent since bird flu was reported in humans earlier this month, according to a report in Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper. Kemal Akman, head of the union of poultry producers, is quoted as saying the industry would suffer losses amounting to $30 million per month.

Indonesia vaccinated 114 million poultry against avian flu with traditionally made vaccine in 2004.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the virus could become entrenched in the Black Sea, Caucasus and Near East regions through trade and movement of people and animals and it could be further spread by migratory birds particularly coming from Africa in the spring.

"Fighting the avian influenza virus in animals is the most effective and cost-effective way to reduce the likelihood of H5N1 mutating or reassorting to cause a human flu pandemic,"​ the FAO stated. "Containing bird flu in domestic animals - mostly chickens and ducks - will significantly reduce the risk to humans. Avian influenza should not only be considered as a human health issue, but as a human and animal health issue."

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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