15 March 2004
AMSTERDAM — About 22,000 chickens were slaughtered in a precautionary cull on Saturday at a poultry farm in Groningen province on suspicions they were infected with a mild variant of the bird flu, an Agriculture Ministry spokesman said.
Antibodies were found in poultry during a periodical inspection, but the birds were not showing any of the symptoms that were detected last year when the Dutch poultry industry was ravaged by a very infectious form of the avian bird flu virus.
Despite the fact the latest outbreak is most likely a relatively harmless form of the virus, Agriculture Minister Cees Veerman did not take any chances and ordered the cull of all 22,000 chickens.
An RTL news report said at the weekend that the birds were possibly exposed to the virus after coming into contact with infected wild birds. The farm is located in Uithuizermeeden, in the Eemsmond municipality.
Tests are also being conducted to determine if the birds were carrying both antibodies and the virus. The exact strain of the virus can thus be determined, the Agriculture Ministry said.
Inspections were conducted at two other farms in the area and a third farm in Groningen province that is linked to the Eemsmond property via family. But initial tests ruled out bird flu concerns, newspaper De Volkskrant reported on Monday.
The ministry also said suspicions of a bird flu outbreak at a farm in the centre of the country were probably a false alarm. Despite this, tests were continuing, it said.
The Agriculture Ministry said the bird flu crisis of 2003 was possibly caused after a mild variant of the virus changed into an aggressive form, warranting the latest cautionary approach.
In a battle to control the spread of the virus at the start of last year, the ministry slaughtered about 25 million poultry and plans to conduct annual inspections in future to track down mild strains of the virus as quickly as possible.
Some 86 people caught the H7N7 strain of avian flu directly from infected chickens in the Netherlands last year. One veterinarian who had examined diseased birds died, but the Lancet medical journal said the virus did not mutate into a human virus.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news