Europe Scrambles to Curb Bird Flu

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union veterinary experts on Wednesday backed plans to boost surveillance of migratory birds and stricter bans on imports as officials scrambled to find ways to curb the spread of deadly bird flu in Europe.

A laying hen is seen under a lamp at a poultry farm near Duesseldorf, western Germany. European leaders took urgent new action to counter fast-multiplying outbreaks of bird flu, ordering poultry indoors to avoid infection but urging consumers not to panic.

With Austria and Germany saying wild birds in their countries tested positive for deadly H5N1, the European Commission approved more than $2.26 million for surveillance programs and added testing to ensure early detection of bird flu outbreaks.

The panel of veterinary experts also backed plans to suspend the import of untreated feathers from all non-EU countries.

"The aim of these national surveillance programs is to provide early detection of cases of avian influenza, particularly in wild birds and poultry in the European Union," said EU spokesman Philip Tod.

He said samples need to be taken from both wild and domestic birds. The plan foresees testing 60,000 wild birds and 300,0000 domestic birds.

The experts, meeting for two days of bird flu talks, focused on additional measures EU governments can take to stop the spread of the virus, including boosting checks at farms and wetlands, Tod said.

All 25 EU governments last year signed up to guidelines to help prevent the spread of bird flu, including setting up protection zones in outbreak areas to halt the movement of farmed poultry or hunting of fowl. Culling is also carried out if needed.

On Wednesday, Gudjon Magnusson of the World Health Organization warned that five countries in or bordering western Europe have recorded large outbreaks: Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Romania and Turkey.

"It is up to us to see that avian flu doesn't become an epidemic in Europe," he said in Kiev, Ukraine.

David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for combatting bird flu, warned that Ukraine _ where H5N1 has spread to 24 villages, with suspicious bird deaths in 18 others _ is at high risk of further outbreaks.

"The threat is still there," he said in Kiev. "Avian influenza will continue to come to Ukraine ... health services must be ready and prepared to deal with people who are infected with avian flu and to be ready for the possible arrival of human-to-human transmission."

Elsewhere Wednesday:

_ Experts in Germany said further testing found H5N1 in two dead swans found on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen _ the country's first known cases. Authorities were awaiting officials results from an EU reference laborabory in England. Preliminary tests on a dead hawk also indicated H5N1, German experts said.

_ Denmark said at least nine wild swans turned up dead on a Danish island near Ruegen, and Poland said three swans died in Krynica Morska on its Baltic coast. Both countries were carrying out further tests to determine if the swans died of bird flu.

_ An Austrian laboratory said two swans tested positive for H5N1. Samples have been sent to the EU reference lab.

_ Italy said its tests confirmed H5N1 in two more birds, in addition to the six announced last weekend. Consumption of poultry dropped 70 percent in two days in Italy, the agricultural association Fedagri said.

_ Concerns about bird flu blocked 2.2 tons of Brazilian poultry from coming into Albania through Italy, Albanian officials said. The World Bank pledged $5.95 million to help Albania fight bird flu, the government said.

_ Three swans in southern Hungary have tested positive for an H5 subtype of bird flu, and further tests were being carried out in Britain to determine the exact strain, the European Commission said.

_ France ordered all poultry either vaccinated or confined indoors as a precaution against the spread of bird flu. Sweden and Denmark also required farmers to keep poultry indoors, and Norway banned outdoor poultry in eight southern counties.

_ The Dutch agriculture ministry urged commercial poultry farmers to get their birds indoors as soon as possible _ before the Feb. 20 order goes into effect, if possible.

_ Farmers in Switzerland also will be required to keep poultry in roofed enclosures starting Feb. 20.

Source: AP