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Europe's Biggest Bird-Flu Risk Is Seen in Spring
posted by admin on 24/04/06

Migrating Fowl May Present Bird-Flu Threat, U.N. Warns

Millions of migrating wild birds returning from the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean next spring may pose the greatest potential risk of bird flu spreading widely through Europe, officials and experts say.

Scientists suspect migrating birds have carried the deadly H5N1 bird-flu strain from Southeast Asia, where it arose among domestic poultry and spread to wildfowl. It recently arrived in the Balkans, which serves as the crossroads for the migratory routes that loop across Europe.

"Recent events make it likely that some migratory birds are now directly spreading the H5N1 virus in its highly pathogenic form. Further spread to new areas is expected," a recent report from the World Health Organization said.

While wildfowl winging through from Russia before winter pose an early risk, experts are more worried about what will happen in spring when birds return to Western Europe from Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.

"The spring migration of 2006 may result in the spread of the H5N1 virus further across Europe, since birds migrating from southern zones will have intermingled with European Russian and Siberian-origin birds in the 2005/2006 winter nesting areas," the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a recent report.

"It's a very large-scale phenomenon involving tens of millions of birds leaving Siberia and Northern Europe for the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and Africa," said Simon Delany of Wetlands International, a Netherlands-based conservation group.

Concern is rising among European health officials as far north as Norway and Finland that infected waterfowl will spread the disease when they return in the spring. The Netherlands has banned free-range poultry. Switzerland, the United Kingdom and other European countries have begun routinely testing migratory birds. U.K. authorities have set up a special hotline in the event of a sudden "die-off" of wild birds.

European Union bird-flu experts will discuss a possible ban on imports of wild birds tomorrow, the EU head office said yesterday. EU spokesman Stefaan de Rynck said the European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, is reviewing a British request to end the trade after a South American parrot died Friday of bird flu in quarantine, though as of last night scientists hadn't identified the strain. Russia on Saturday recorded a new outbreak in a region of the Ural mountains.

In Thailand, poultry farmers were warned to abide by regulations after authorities announced two more human cases last week, one of them fatal.

Fears of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 were allayed slightly when Thai health officials announced Saturday that neither a man nor his young son, both suffering from bird flu, had been infected by the other, as had been feared. The 48-year-old father died Wednesday; the 7-year-old boy has recovered. The father handled sick chickens and the son was with him when the birds were slaughtered and plucked.

Officials in Beijing were monitoring migratory birds for signs of bird flu after the disease last week killed 2,600 wild birds in Hohhot, the capital of China's northern Inner Mongolia region, state media reported.

In Taiwan, authorities called on the WHO to step up its monitoring activities in China. The request came after the Council of Agriculture confirmed mainland birds intercepted offshore last week had tested positive for the H5N1 virus.

Premier Frank Hsieh said the island is prepared to start production of its own version of Tamiflu, a drug shown to be somewhat effective against the virus, rather than wait for additional shipments from Swiss drug maker Roche Holding AG.

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