Bird flu outbreak 'likely to spread in Germany'

16th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

16 February 2006, BERLIN - Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer warned Thursday Germany's bird flu outbreak was likely to spread and that his top goal was to protect the public and prevent the disease from breaking out in domestic poultry stocks.

16 February 2006

BERLIN - Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer warned Thursday Germany's bird flu outbreak was likely to spread and that his top goal was to protect the public and prevent the disease from breaking out in domestic poultry stocks.

German scientists confirmed Tuesday that two dead swans found on the Baltic Sea had been infected with H5N1, the most dangerous strain of avian influenza. A goshawk picked up in the same area was also found to be infected.

Seehofer, in a speech to parliament, said scientists had confirmed the H5H1 virus found in the two swans was similar to a sub-group which had been confirmed in China over recent years.

This is the first known outbreak of deadly bird flu in Germany.

"We expect further cases," said Seehofer.

Bird flu was likely to spread both in northern Germany and into the southern part of the country after the disease was found in Italy, Bulgaria, Austria and Poland, he said.

A further 40 dead birds found on the German Baltic coast state of Mecklenburg-West Pommerania were being tested at a state animal health agency and initial results were expected later Thursday, said Seehofer.

The German government has ordered all domestic poultry in the area of the outbreak to be kept indoors. Seehofer said this was the best way to prevent bird flu from spreading.

"This virus is in the wild bird population. We will do everything possible to keep it from entering domestic poultry stocks," he said.

A nationwide ban on keeping poultry outdoors comes into force in the rest of Germany on Friday and will last at least until the end of April.

Denmark, Sweden and Norway have also imposed bans on keeping poultry outdoors.

In a further measure, Germany has banned all bird markets and exhibitions.

The German bird flu outbreak has mystified scientists, who said they could not understand where the dead birds had caught the H5N1 virus.

Scientists said the dead birds could not have caught the virus elsewhere, because they do not migrate. There was speculation that ducks, which fly long distances, were spreading the virus to Baltic birds.

Ornithologists said mute swans stay in the same place all year. It was possible that birds in the area might have been carrying the virus for months with no ill effects until they were weakened by weeks of cold.

Meanwhile, the German government has authorized 20 million euros (24 million dollars) to develop a vaccine if a human influenza virus evolves from the H5N1 bird virus.

The government plan to produce 160 million vaccine doses, double what would be needed to treat 82 million Germans. Scientists say a pandemic, or worldwide attack of killer flu, is theoretically possible if the virus mutates.

Avian influenza has killed birds in more than 20 countries and infected at least 166 people, killing 91 of them.

A report this week by the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that N5N1 remains largely a disease of birds.

"The species barrier is significant: the virus does not easily cross from birds to infect humans," said the WHO.

The WHO underlined that despite tens of millions of poultry cases around the globe since 2003, fewer than 200 human cases have been confirmed by laboratory studies.

"For unknown reasons, most cases have occurred in rural and periurban households where small flocks of poultry are kept. Again for unknown reasons, very few cases have been detected in presumed high risk groups, such as commercial poultry workers, workers at live poultry markets, cullers, veterinarians, and health staff caring for patients without adequate protective equipment," said the WHO.

DPA

Subject: German news

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