France on red alert for deadly bird flu strain

24th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 24, 2006 (AFP) - France was on high alert Friday for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu after confirming the broad H5 type had been found on a turkey farm in the east of the country, Europe's biggest poultry producer.

PARIS, Feb 24, 2006 (AFP) - France was on high alert Friday for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu after confirming the broad H5 type had been found on a turkey farm in the east of the country, Europe's biggest poultry producer.

If more tests confirm the H5N1 sub-type, which can be lethal to humans, it would be the first such outbreak on a farm in the European Union.

Meanwhile, five new suspected cases of bird flu have been identified in wild swans in eastern France, local authorities said Friday.

The swans were also found in the central-eastern Ain department, where France's two confirmed cases of H5N1 bird flu were found, both in wild ducks.

Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau told France 2 television that the "highly pathogenic H5 virus" had been confirmed at an indoor farm containing 11,000 turkeys in the Ain department.

He said only "complete" test results — being carried out at a government laboratory in Brittany and expected later Friday — would tell whether the birds had the H5N1 strain.

"What concerns us is that the farm is within the security perimeter that we set up for the first duck" carrying the H5N1 virus, a wild bird discovered 10 days ago in the village of Joyeux, Bussereau said.

At least 400 turkeys were found dead on Thursday and the rest of the farm's 11,000 birds were slaughtered during the day.

Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the government would decide what further steps to take once the results were known.

"On the basis of this analysis we may decide to adapt and reinforce our measures," Villepin told reporters in the southeastern city of Lyon, after attending an exercise aimed at testing the health authorities' response to an outbreak of H5N1 in humans.

France has so far confirmed two cases of H5N1 bird flu, both in wild ducks found in the same department.

Officials sounded the alarm at the turkey farm near Joyeux on Thursday after an unusually high mortality was observed, with more than 400 birds found dead of illness. All surviving birds were slaughtered by the end of the day.

A three-kilometre protection zone has been set up around the farm, with roadblocks closing off all routes and in and out of the sector.

The Poultry Industry Federation (FIA) said in a statement Friday that the turkeys, although reared in a closed environment, may have been contaminated by dried duck excretions on the straw used as their bedding.

France has been braced for a battle to protect its six-billion-euro poultry industry, which employs some 65,000 people, from the H5N1 virus.

The Ain department in particular is an important poultry producer, famous for its top-of-the-range Bresse chickens.

Last week the French government ordered poultry farmers across the country to move birds indoors, but the industry says that sales have already fallen by 30 percent due to consumer jitters, costing 130 million euros in lost revenues.

Villepin on Thursday announced an extra EUR 52 million in aid for farmers, including two million for a public information campaign to reassure consumers about eating poultry.

"We appreciate the gesture even if it is not enough, since the poultry sector is losing 40 million euros per month," said the head of the FIA, Alain Melot. "But the government has realised the scale of the crisis."

Eight EU countries have so far confirmed cases of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain: Hungary, Slovenia, Austria, Greece, Italy, France, Germany and Slovakia.

H5N1 appeared on Wednesday in European poultry for the first time in two chickens in Austria, but the birds were in an animal refuge and not in a farm.

In Germany, a feared outbreak on a poultry farm this week turned out not to be the deadly virus.

The spread of the disease is worrying scientists and governments because of fears the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmissible between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

So far the H5N1 virus has killed 92 people since 2003, mostly in Southeast Asia, China and Turkey, after they were in close contact with infected birds.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

0 Comments To This Article