France begins bird flu vaccination programme

27th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 27, 2006 (AFP) - International veterinary experts gathered in Paris on Monday to discuss the fight against bird flu as the lethal H5N1 strain made further advances in Africa and French authorities started a mass vaccination programme of ducks and geese.

PARIS, Feb 27, 2006 (AFP) - International veterinary experts gathered in Paris on Monday to discuss the fight against bird flu as the lethal H5N1 strain made further advances in Africa and French authorities started a mass vaccination programme of ducks and geese.

Chief veterinary officers from more than 50 countries in Europe as well as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Syria and Iran started a two-day meeting at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) aimed at coordinating their response to the worsening epidemic.

"They will be hearing country-by-country situation reports, analysing the way the virus is spreading and recommending coordinated measures for detection and control," said OIE spokeswoman Maria Zampaglione.

OIE director-general Bernard Vallat warned that bird flu was transforming from "epidemic to pandemic."

"With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, which are not hit by bird migrations from affected areas, the rest of the world is directly exposed. ... Various clues have raised the fear it could contaminate the American continent," he told France's Le Monde newspaper.

The potentially deadly virus made new strides in Africa, with the OIE reporting the first cases in Niger.

Nigeria, which was previously the only west African country with the disease, reported that two more states in the north -- Yobe and Nassarawa -- had been hit by the virus.

In Nairobi, Kenyan authorities said 400 dead chickens were being tested for H5N1.

The bird flu virus is carried mainly by wild waterfowl, and with the springtime migration north to Europe imminent, the implications of large-scale African infection are far-reaching.

In France, where on Saturday Europe's first case of H5N1 in domestic fowl was confirmed at a turkey farm, authorities in the southwest began a vaccination programme of some 700,000 geese and ducks used in the production of foie gras.

Based in the Landes department, the operation -- which was authorised by EU veterinary authorities last week -- is expected to last several weeks.

Experts see vaccination as a last resort in countries like France with an advanced level of veterinary organisation. Confinement of domestic fowl, isolation of suspect cases, surveillance and selected slaughter is still the preferred option.

An exception was requested for southwest France because it was deemed impractical to confine the large numbers of geese and ducks used for the production of foie gras in the region, which lies on a key south-north migration route.

France now has 17 reported cases of the H5N1 virus in wild birds, after 15 dead swans were included at the weekend. All have been found in the eastern Ain department, where hundreds of turkeys succumbed at a farm on Thursday.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany reported more flu cases in wild birds and Switzerland said a first case of the broader H5 virus had been detected. A swan in Croatia also died of the disease.

Moscow said an outbreak of H5N1 was detected in domestic fowl in the southern Russian region of Stavropol.

Outbreaks have already been registered this month in the southern province of Dagestan, and experts said the start of bird migrations in spring could bring many more across southern Russia.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the formation of a government bird flu crisis group.

India slaughtered hundreds of thousands of chickens and checked around 90,000 people for bird flu symptoms in the northwestern state of Gujarat as authorities ordered tests on dead birds in Assam in the northeast.

Experts fear that H5N1, which has killed more than 90 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, may mutate into a form that can pass between humans, launching a pandemic that could kill millions.

Human deaths have been recorded in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

China has warned of possible widespread outbreaks among birds during the coming months, and the health ministry announced two more human cases of the virus.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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