The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) warned on Tuesday that the deadly H5N1 bird flu is likely to spread to domestic poultry in more European countries.
"The spread of the infection to domestic poultry in other European and neighboring countries is highly likely and may even be made worse by the arrival in Europe of possibly infected birds from Africa and the Middle East next spring," the Paris-based OIE said in a statement.
The OIE statement followed a meeting of chief veterinary officials from around 50 European countries to work on a common strategy for fighting the unfolding bird flu crisis.
"All countries of the world need to control the virus, irrespective of their national economies, as only one defaulting country can seriously endanger the rest of the planet," the document warned.
"The use of vaccination for the control of the disease has been discussed and considered an option in specific cases. Only vaccination carried out with effective monitoring will result in eradication of the disease," the OIE said.
European countries such as France and the Netherlands have permission to use a limited vaccination program. After confirming the first case of H5N1 on a European poultry farm on Saturday, France began on Monday to vaccinate some 700,000 birds.
Holland also hopes to begin the vaccination in two or three weeks, covering only backyard and free-range poultry.
At least 19 new countries on three continents have reported initial outbreaks of the virus this month: Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Nigeria, Niger, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.
On Tuesday, Swedish authorities said bird flu virus was found in two wild ducks, while further tests are needed to confirm if it is the deadly H5N1 strain.
Another worrying new development was Germany's report on Tuesday of the first known case in Europe of a cat being infected with the deadly H5N1 virus. The animal might have died after eating infected birds, experts said.
The wide spread of the avian influenza in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has also caused dramatic swings in poultry consumption, increased trade bans and sharp price declines, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in Rome on Tuesday.
"A steady erosion of previously expected gains in per caput poultry consumption will likely push down global poultry consumption in 2006, currently estimated at 81.8 million tons, nearly 3 million tons lower than the previous 2006 estimate of 84.6 million tons," said FAO commodity specialist Nancy Morgan.
The FAO has also revised its global poultry trade projection for 2006, removing 500,000 tons from the previous estimate of 8.6 million tons.