August 25, 2005 (ENS): Europe has been free
of the deadly strain of H5N1 avian influenza to date,
but outbreaks in six Siberian villages over the past
month have brought the disease to the doorstep of the
European Union. EU veterinary experts from all 25 member
states meeting today agreed there is "cause for
The European Commission convened the veterinarians
to discuss the bird flu situation in Asia and Siberia
and decide what to do to keep the disease from spreading
into the EU. Health officials worldwide have raised
concerns about the illness mutating into a strain that
could easily be passed between humans, triggering a
global pandemic that could claim millions of lives.
Markos Kyprianou, commissioner for health and consumer
protection, said, “We clearly want to do our utmost
to prevent the spread of this devastating epidemic to
the EU. We will continue to monitor the situation closely
to ensure that the most appropriate risk-reducing measures
are in place.”
The Commission asked all member states to step up surveillance
and offered to make financing available to facilitate
In what is formally called the Standing Committee on
the Food Chain and Animal Health working group meeting
on Avian Influenza, the veterinarians had an extensive
discussion of the possibility of the disease spreading
into the EU via migratory birds, particularly waterfowl.
They concluded there is not enough information available
to determine to what extent the spread of the disease
might have been caused by wild birds.
But on Monday, Dutch and Swedish researchers published
a study in the journal "Emerging Infectious Diseases"
showing that wild ducks, particularly mallards, can
carry at least seven strains of avian flu virus.
Anders Wallensten and Albert Osterhaus at the Erasmus
Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands and Umea University
in Sweden wrote, "Because highly pathogenic avian
influenza outbreaks in poultry find their origin in
low pathogenic avian influenza viruses present in waterfowl,
influenza A virus surveillance in wild birds could function
as an early warning system."
Still, the expert group of veterinarians said that based
on existing knowledge of the migratory routes of the
species of birds that might pose a risk of spreading
the virus, the immediate risk is "probably remote
or low," depending on the area of the EU.
The experts rejected a generalized ban on keeping
poultry outdoors. They decided the measure was not proportionate
to the current risk of disease introduction through
Still, the veterinarians urged increasing sampling of
migratory waterfowl along the flyways that could pose
a risk of disease introduction.
The EU started intensive surveillance of domestic and
wild birds in 2003 and has adjusted surveillance measures
every year since then.
On February 6, 2004, the European Commission took a
formal decision to suspend imports of poultry meat,
poultry birds and other live birds from Cambodia, China
and Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, South
Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. In March 2005 the suspension
was lifted for Japan and South Korea.
On August 19, the Commission suspended the import of
poultry meat, birds and other live birds from Kazakhstan
Experts agreed at the meeting to review contingency
plans and increase vigilance to ensure that existing
measures such as import bans are fully enforced.
They agreed that EU member states should introduce
additional awareness programs to encourage farmers to
further improve biosecurity measures and to assist the
early detection of avian influenza should it occur.
But the veterinarians noted that these programs "could
comprise" distribution of generally understandable
information - for example through leaflets and the press
- on avian influenza.
The expert group said that "proper and reliable
information on poultry products" should be provided
to the consumers to prevent any lack of confidence from
In addition they asked member states to "urgently
review" and update the existing contingency plans
which each state has for bird flu in accordance with
European Community legislation specifying the national
measures to be immediately applied in case of any suspicion
or confirmation of the disease.
In this connection, they said, the need to provide adequate
protection to poultry workers at risk of infection should
be fully considered.
In an attempt to keep bird flu out of Europe, the vets
say customs officers should ensure "thorough application
of the existing measures and controls at the external
borders of the European Union on any introduction of
The veterinarians asked that special attention be paid
to the import of birds other than poultry such as ornamental
birds and pet birds and their products - both as commercial
consignments and as personal luggage of passengers -
to ensure that only commodities fulfilling the requirements
established by Community legislation are imported.
Another meeting of the experts has been scheduled for
early September, at which the Commission will coordinate
the intensified surveillance, for which Community funding
On September 22, a meeting of chief medical officers
and chief veterinary officers is planned to discuss
the co-ordination of veterinary and public health measures.
In the fall, the Commission is organizing a command-post
exercise to test communications, exchanges of information
and interaction between the competent authorities at
the EU level and the coordination and inter-operability
of national plans. A conference is planned after the
exercise to evaluate the lessons learned and to prepare
recommendations for improvements.
In 2003, a major outbreak of a different strain of
avian flu occurred in the Netherlands and smaller outbreaks
in bordering regions in Belgium and Germany. Thirty
million birds were slaughtered and the outbreak was
Since 2003, the European Commission has been engaged
in talks with European vaccine manufacturers to agree
on a way to ensure sufficiency of influenza vaccines
in the EU in the shortest possible time in case of a
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All