BRUSSELS: European Union veterinary experts yesterday backed plans to boost surveillance of wild birds and stricter bans on imports into the 25-nation bloc as officials scrambled to find ways to curb the spread of deadly bird flu in Europe.
With Austria and Germany saying wild birds in their countries have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, the European Commission approved more than 1.9 million euros (US$2.26 million) in additional funding for national surveillance programmes and added testing to ensure early detection of outbreaks.
The panel of veterinary experts also backed plans to suspend the import of untreated feathers from all non-EU countries.
"The aim of these national surveillance programmes is to provide early detection of cases of avian influenza, particularly in wild birds and poultry in the European Union," said EU spokesman Philip Tod.
He said the programmes would run from between February 1 to the end of the year.
Tod added that in total, the plans foresee the testing of 60,000 wild birds and 300,0000 domestic birds.
Experts from a German medical institute said yesterday that further tests on samples from two dead swans confirmed the birds were the country's first known cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Germany became the fourth European Union country to detect the highly pathogenic strain of avian flu. The virus was first found to have reached the EU at the weekend, when Italy and Greece said they had identified it in wild swans. They were followed by Austria which announced confirmed cases on Tuesday.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet was discussing further possible measures in addition to ordering farmers to keep all poultry and domestic birds indoors.
The swans were found on Tuesday on a beach on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen and a preliminary test indicated they carried H5N1. German experts have since conducted a series of other tests, all of which came out positive.
Testing for the virus in wild birds continued across Europe, with Romania ?which has already confirmed cases of H5N1 ?saying it had found suspected new cases, though the strain was unknown.
Neighbouring Hungary said it was testing 11 dead swans for H5N1, the national news agency MTI said. If positive, they would be the first cases in the country.
Poland said it was checking samples from three dead swans. Both its eastern neighbour Ukraine and Germany to its west already have cases of H5N1.
The virus has killed at least 91 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. China has reported eight deaths.
In Denmark, at least nine dead swans have been found on islands in the Baltic Sea, near the German island where the two birds were discovered that tested positive for the H5N1 strain, authorities said yesterday. Tests were being conducted on the birds to establish the cause of death.
In Kiev, the United Nations?top official for bird flu warned yesterday that Ukraine is at high risk of further outbreaks of the disease and said it must be ready to cope with human infections.
"The threat is still there," David Nabarro, the UN coordinator for combatting bird flu, said during a visit to the Ukrainian capital. "Avian influenza will continue to come to Ukraine ... health services must be ready and prepared to deal with people who are infected with avian flu and to be ready for the possible arrival of human-to-human transmission."
The lethal H5N1 strain of bird was recorded in Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in December. The virus has spread to 24 villages, and another 18 have recorded suspicious numbers of deaths among domestic fowl.
Almost all the human deaths have been linked to contact with infected poultry, but experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, possibly starting a human flu pandemic.
In Indonesia, its agriculture minister said yesterday Indonesians are dying of bird flu quicker and in greater numbers than before, both signs that the virus is becoming more virulent,
And Nigerian officials said yesterday authorities have killed more than 140,000 fowl to curb the spread of bird flu. Three of Nigeria's 36 states have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 bird flu strain, and five others are testing suspected cases.
In Iraq, authorities have declared a bird flu alert in the Maysan province and called for security forces to prevent people carrying birds in and out of the southern region, the health minister and a top official said yesterday.
Source: China Daily