Bird Flu Seen Spreading

March 1, 2006

This is going to create another widespread panic attack calling to step-up culling of innocent birds & cats here!

Tue Feb 28, 2006 6:08 PM GMT
By David Evans

PARIS (Reuters) – Bird flu is likely to hit poultry flocks in a number of European states, experts said on Tuesday, while alarm over the spread of the H5N1 virus was fuelled by a report that it had been found in a dead German cat.

Scientists said they did not believe the case of the German cat increased the risks to human health from a virus which is known to have killed at least 93 people since late 2003. However, one expert advised cat owners to keep their pets indoors in affected regions.

Sweden became the latest in a series of new countries to report an outbreak of bird flu. Two wild ducks found dead on the Baltic coast had an aggressive form of bird flu and officials said it was likely to be confirmed as the feared H5N1 strain.

Iraq, which has reported two deaths from bird flu, said it was making checks for three suspected human cases in Baghdad and one in the northeastern province of Dayala.

The poultry industry is being hard hit as consumers shun meat such as chicken despite reassurances it is safe to eat. France last week became the first European Union country to confirm an outbreak on a poultry farm.

“The spread of the infection to domestic poultry in other European and neighbouring countries is highly likely and may even be made worse by the arrival in Europe of possibly infected birds from Africa and the Middle East next spring,” the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said.

France, Europe’s biggest poultry producer, has confirmed the first outbreak of H5N1 at a farm in the European Union. The news has prompted 20 countries to ban French poultry and France said it was in talks to reverse the bans.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned the crisis would depress demand for poultry and hit prices.

“The U.N. agency expects poultry consumption shocks in many countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa that have been hit by the avian influenza,” it said in a statement.
“Poultry prices are expected to continue declining, threatening industry profitability around the world,” it added.

GERMAN CAT
German officials said the cat was found at the weekend on the island of Ruegen off Germany’s northern coast, the same location where the virus was first identified in birds earlier this month.


The finding may increase concern that the virus could spread to other species in Europe as it has in a number of cases in other parts of the world.

Germany’s Federal Research Institute for Animal Health said it was still conducting tests to see whether the virus was the deadly strain of H5N1.

“It has been known for some time that cats can become infected by eating infected birds,” Thomas Mettenleiter, the institute’s president said in a statement.

Albert Osterhaus, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands who has conducted research into the virus in cats, said he was not surprised by the case.

“Cat to human transmission is theoretically possible and not to be excluded. We have seen cat-to-cat transmission in laboratory experiments.

“People should keep their cats inside in regions where the disease was found,” Osterhaus told Reuters.

The H5N1 virus has been detected in around 20 new countries over the past month alone, crossing into Europe and Africa. The virus is endemic in birds across parts of Asia.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said H5N1 was spreading relentlessly.

Every day there’s another country … and it’s going to go all the way across (the globe) — there’s no doubt about it,” he told a conference on bird flu in Washington.

It has led to the culling or deaths of some 200 million birds since late 2003. In poultry flocks it can cause sudden severe disease, rapid contagion and a mortality rate that can approach 100 percent within 48 hours.

Although essentially an animal disease, humans can contract the virus through direct contact with sick poultry.

The real fear for humans is that the virus will mutate into a form which passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.

KENYAN TESTS
Tests on dead chickens found dumped on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi came back negative for H5N1. However, East African neighbour Ethiopia had sent samples from dead poultry to Italy for laboratory checks.

Experts fear the virus could spread rapidly in Africa where chickens live in millions of homes and health, veterinary and laboratory services are often poor.

The virus had been found in birds in the West African states of Nigeria and Niger and also in Egypt.

(Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard and Simon Johnson in Stockholm, Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Silvia Aloisi in Rome and Paul Majendie in London)

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