Prague, 18 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Authorities in Greece were on alert
today after a first case of bird flu was discovered in the country
yesterday. Medical officials were testing farm workers on Oinouses, a
small island of 700 people in the Aegean Sea close to the Turkish
coast, after a bird flu case was confirmed on a turkey farm on the
islet. Greece, in cooperation with EU officials, has banned the export
of live birds, poultry meat, and products from Aegean Sea islands
neighboring Oinouses, while further samples are being sent to the EU's
laboratory in Weybridge, England. Scientists there will perform tests
to determine whether the flu detected in the original sample belongs to
the deadly H5N1 strain.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed more than 60 people in
Asia since 2003, has already been identified in birds in Turkey and
Romania and, in August, in Russia. Tests are also being carried out on
birds in Bulgaria and Croatia. Bosnia earlier today said no bird flu
virus was detected after tests on three dead chickens.
EU foreign ministers today held emergency talks in Luxembourg on how to
respond to the bird-flu threat. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw,
speaking as ministers gathered for the talks, said Europe must come up
with a strategy to deal with a possible transfer of the virus to
"A huge amount of effort is going in to provide advice, assistance to
Greece, to Romania, to Turkey, to the Russian Federation, and to other
countries around the world, a great deal of effort to ensure that there
are adequate contingency plans to deal with any transfer of avian flu
to humans," Straw said.
Ministers were set to call for “a coordinated international reaction"
to tackle what they termed as a “global threat.”
Meanwhile, Romania said today it has found new cases of suspected bird
flu in the Danube Delta, one of them near its border with Ukraine.
Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said several swans have tested
positive for bird-flu antibodies.
"Close to the Ukrainian border, near [the Danube Delta village of] C.A.
Rosetti, we have a swan with a seropositive diagnosis [tested positive
with bird-flu antibodies] and also, in the area of [the Danube Delta
village of] Maliuc, we have several swans with seropositive analyses,"
Flutur said the new cases in Romania will subjected to further tests to
determine whether the birds were carrying the bird-flu virus. Flutur
said officials from Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova are due to meet on 20
October in Odesa to discuss a common regional strategy.
The Danube Delta, shared by Romania and Ukraine, is one of the major
transit destinations for migrating birds, which are believed to be
spreading the bird-flu virus. Most human bird-flu infections have been
traced to contact with birds. But scientists say the possibility exists
that the virus will mutate into a form that can be spread from human to
human, triggering a pandemic that could kill millions.
However, Maria Cheng, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization
(WHO), the United Nations health agency, told RFE/RL that a clear
distinction should be made between the current outbreaks and a possible
mutation that could affect humans on a broad scale.
"I think what most people are worried about is the spread of flu around
the world in a pandemic, but that's not the situation we have here,"
Cheng said. "These outbreaks in Europe are outbreaks of an animal
disease. Avian influenza H5N1 still very rarely affects humans, so it
is not a risk for the public at large. But we are worried about it,
because it does have potential to change into a strain that could
ultimately cause a pandemic."
Health officials, however, are urging the international community not
to waste any time in getting prepared. David Nabarro, the UN's recently
appointed coordinator for bird and human influenza, has warned that the
world needs six months to a year to prepare for a possible pandemic.
U.S. Health Secretary Mike Leavitt, in Vietnam yesterday, noted that
the international community is racing to upgrade preparations. "It
would be my assessment that no nation is adequately prepared for a
pandemic avian flu," he said. "I believe that most nations are
improving, and preparations are increasing."
The WHO has said that further outbreaks of avian disease are expected
in different countries. But the WHO cautioned that a mutated human
strain is more likely to emerge in Asia than in other parts of the
world. "It could theoretically happen anywhere," WHO spokeswoman Cheng
said. "But because we're seeing the most outbreaks and we've identified
human cases in Asia, we still believe that Asia is the focus of the
avian-influenza outbreak. So, just by the fact that there's much more
virus in Asia and that we've seen it infect people there, from that
point of view it is more likely that we would see it happen in Asia
just because of the amount of virus that it's there."
The UN's Nabarro said the international community should help finance
emergency plans to help poor Asian countries fight a potential
EU Prepares For Pandemic As Bird Flu Reaches GreeceBird Flu FAQ