Scientists investigate Europe's bird flu outbreaks

October 19, 2005

Brussels, 18 Oct 2005

European scientists are currently in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria evaluating the avian influenza situation in these countries after the virus was detected in Turkey and Romania.

A UK laboratory has confirmed that the strain of bird flu found in Ceamurlia de Jos in Romania was the H5N1 strain, which has been linked to more than 60 deaths in Asia. The same strain has been detected in north-west Turkey, and tests are currently being carried out in order to establish whether the virus was responsible for the death of a group of swans found 30km away from Ceamurlia de Jos.

The European Commission is seeking other experts that may be able to travel to affected areas in order to monitor the situation, and has therefore asked Member States to nominate experts who are available.

On 14 October the EU Member States unanimously endorsed reinforced measures proposed by the Commission to reduce the risk of bird flu arriving in EU poultry farms. The agreement focuses on strengthening biosecurity measures on farms and introducing early detection systems in high-risk areas such as wetlands and farms along migratory flyways.

Many scientists within the EU now believe that it is inevitable that bird flu will penetrate the EU Member States, but the real fear is that the virus will mutate into a form that can be passed from human to human.

A few occurrences of this have already been seen, but so far they have been isolated cases. Of most concern is the prospect that bird flu could exchange genes with a human flu virus if a person is simultaneously infected with both. The more this double infection happens, the higher the chance that a new virus could be created and passed from person to person. This could result in between two million and 50 million deaths worldwide, according to experts.

Countries around the world are currently stockpiling antiviral drugs, which should help to limit symptoms and reduce chances of the disease spreading.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001
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