Bird flu hits Germany and Czech Republic

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Virus, Avian influenza, Influenza pandemic

The deadly form of bird flu is spreading again in Europe, with
Germany and the Czech Republic both reporting outbreaks of H5N1.

The outbreaks are occuring despite the EU's stepped up efforts to try and prevent the virus from affecting the bloc's poultry supply. Some experts are now saying the new outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 form of the disease indicate it might be in the process of becoming endemic in Europe. Such a conclusion could serve to again raise consumer fears about the extent of the disease in their foods, putting pressure on processors to be careful about where they source their supplies In the Czech Republic the deadly H5N1 form of the disease has infected broilers, which were to be culled by today. The bird flu virus was found in 60 out of 27,800 broilers bred in Norin, according to local press reports. An outbreak also occured at a turkey farm in the region, where 6,000 birds were culled. Officials also reported discovering the virus in a dead swan found in Lednice, south Moravia. The Czech Republic was hit with its first bird flu case in March 2006. Since then the country has registered another 13 cases of H5N1 infection of swans. The current outbreak was the first infection of domestic birds in the country. Last weekend Germany confirmed that H5N1 was found in six wild birds found dead near Nuremberg, and then reported on Tuesday that three wild swans in the east of the country were also infected. In April 2006 Germany recorded one incidence of the virus on a farm, and had to cull about 21,000 poultry. Germany last reported H5N1 in August last year after officials detetected it in a swan at a zoo in Dresden. Earlier this year outbreaks in Hungary led the government to shut down poultry sales from the affected regions. Meanwhile experts at a meeting of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) this week in Rome warned that avian flu seems to be entrenched as new outbreaks appear. Joseph Domenech, the FAO's chief veterinary officer, said the response to the virus has improved significantly over the past three years, but it remains entrenched in several countries and will continue to spread. He said that except in Egypt and Indonesia, human H5N1 cases have been very sporadic. "This achievement is the most important demonstration of the effects of worldwide efforts to contain the H5N1 virus,"​ he said. In the 15 countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East where the virus has cropped up in the past six months, it was rapidly detected and eliminated or controlled, Domenech said. He also stressed that there should be absolutely no reason for complacency. "Recent H5N1 outbreaks in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, the Czech Republic and Germany are a clear reminder that the virus still succeeds in spreading to new or previously already infected countries,"​ Domenech said. "What makes the battle against avian influenza so difficult are the many high risk poultry production and marketing practices that still continue in many countries."​ A potential human influenza pandemic can not be ruled out as long as the virus continues to exist in poultry, he added. At a conference last week in Toronto, international experts also warned that the persistent outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 virus in some regions indicates that it may become endemic. In Europe and the Russian Federation, "the reemergence of the virus in a number of countries does suggest we are moving toward endemicity" even though some countries have deployed vaccinations against the disease, Ian Brown, a scientist at the UK's Veterinary Laboratory Agency, told the conference. Vaccinating poultry and ducks to contain avian flu has been controversial. It reduces birds' clinical symptoms, keeping them alive and preserving their economic value-though not necessarily their utility as a trade good, because some countries refuse to import vaccinated chicken. It also decreases viral shedding, slowing disease transmission, but it does not block infection entirely, potentially allowing the virus to spread silently, the experts said. According to scientists at the conference, vaccination may be driving the virus to evolve. Samples gathered in northern Vietnam in December 2005 were found to be more virulent than earlier samples, but less likely to be controlled by vaccines that once contained the virus successfully, said David Suarez of the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory. Farmers and poultry producers have suffered losses amounting to billions of dollars, the FAO estimates. Last month two people have been infected with a milder form of the H5N1 virus after an outbreak on a farm in North Wales. The H5N1 virus has been responsible for the death of about 182 people in Asia and four in Turkey, since 2003. It was also the virus that infected a turkey flock at the Bernard Matthews' plant in Suffolk, the UK earlier this year, resulting in the culling of 159,000 birds. The European Commission this year tightened current restrictions to be put on processed and raw meats from member states in the event of an outbreak. The new measures, which will come into affect on 1 July this year, were made due to a number of scares throughout the bloc during the year. Initial restrictions imposed on areas found to house infected poultry will be amended further, tightening movements on meat in and out of the region. Under earlier proposals, the EU directive called on officials to ensure the establishment of a 3 km quarantine zone around the infected area. A further 10 km surveillance zone in which animals must remain indoors and not moved to any location other than the slaughterhouse is also in place. While the regulators have consistently advised the public that the risk of H5N1 being transmitted from poultry to humans is "extremely low", consumers have tended to react to outbreaks by lowering their consumption of the meat. Outbreaks last year in Europe led to to a decline in consumption and exports. Some EU members were forced to stockpile supplies, leading to a glut in the market.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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