The H5N1 bird flu virus has for the first time been found on a poultry farm in Germany, the Ministry for Social Affairs in the eastern state of Saxony said on Wednesday.
The virus was found at one of Saxony's largest poultry farms
A special protection zone of three kilometres (1.9 miles) had been drawn around the poultry farm east of Leipzig, where 700 turkeys have already been slaughtered and orders have been given to slaughter some 16,000 more, Saxon state officials confirmed Wednesday.
The outbreak in Leipzig marked the first time that a poultry farm in Germany had been touched by a form of H5 bird flu since the virus was registered in 1959.
"It is of course very regrettable that this case has now occurred in a stock of domestic fowl," Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "It is a serious situation, and we must now see, above all, if we can find out more about the path of infection, because Saxony was not known until now as a state in which bird flu had occurred in migratory birds and that raises a lot of questions."
There have been three cases of bird flu in Europe since February
A high death rate among turkeys at the farm alerted authorities to the danger, according to Germany's Friedrich Loeffler Institute for Animal Health.
All protective measures started
"Even though we have not found a case of the H5N1 virus in Saxony among wild birds, it does not necessarily mean that wild birds in Saxony are not infected," FLI spokesperson Elke Reinking said.
State veterinarian Ingolf Herold said the animals were regularly checked for bird flu and did not show any signs of the virus or virus anti-bodies during tests two weeks ago.
The state Social Ministry announced that a crisis group had been formed to deal with the new case. State veterinarians are observing a 10-km area surrounding the poultry farm and police are inspecting vehicles that enter and leave the area while disinfectant mats are places on roads.
"All measures possible in the short amount of time we've had have already been put into motion," state Social Minister Helma Orosz said.
Experts hope to know by Thursday if the virus is the deadly Asian strain
Testing measures help uncover infections
The care taken during animal testing is one of the reasons the case was discovered, according to Leipzig University's Maria Krautwald-Junghanns.
"Not a lack of hygiene, but the tight net of care and protection measures lead to these kinds of finds," she added.
Since the middle of February 3,365 dead birds have been checked for bird flu. Until now the results had always been negative, according to the ministry. Officials expect to know on Thursday if the virus was the aggressive Asian form responsible for over 100 deaths.
The H5N1 strain has been found in wild birds in seven of Germany's states, stretching from the Baltic Sea to Lake Constance, and reached Berlin late last month when a dead buzzard found on the balcony of an apartment block in the capital was confirmed to have had the virus.