Hopes that the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu had not yet reached mainland Europe were dashed Saturday after samples from Romanian ducks proved positive. This follows a similar confirmation in Turkey on Friday
Despite every effort, the H5N1 strain has breached Europe's borders
Europe bolstered its defenses against bird flu Friday after the lethal Asian strain of the virus was confirmed in Turkey, and then later Romania, raising further fears of a potential pandemic throughout the European mainland.
But EU veterinary experts, while approving a package of measures including advising that some poultry should be moved indoors, also underlined that the avian influenza poses no risk to public health "at present."
"Information from the outbreaks of avian influenza this week in East Europe (Romania and Turkey) suggests that the disease remains confined to poultry and wild birds and at this stage no human cases have been confirmed," they said. "Therefore at present avian influenza does not represent a risk to the general public."
Authorities scrambled to allay panic after the H5N1 virus was identified on the continent's southeastern border, but early on Saturday the Romanian state veterinary authority confirmed that lab tests in Britain had discovered that an outbreak of bird flu in Romania to contain H5N1, the strain that is potentially highly pathogenic to humans.
The tests on three ducks found dead in Romania's Danube delta near the Black Sea last week confirmed fears that the disease, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003, has entered Europe.
"We have received telephone confirmation from London that it is the H5N1 virus," Alina Monea, spokeswoman at Romania's veterinary and animal health authority, told Reuters.
EU stockpiles drugs as virus crosses border
European expansion: bird flu looks towards the EU
The commission, the EU's executive branch, on Thursday called on EU governments to stockpile anti-viral drugs, and said people at risk should ensure they are vaccinated against regular influenza.
The big fear among experts is that H5N1 may mutate, acquiring genes from the human influenza virus that would make it highly infectious as well as lethal -- possibly killing millions worldwide as the influenza pandemic of 1918 did.
In Geneva, the World Health Organization said Friday that it was concerned about the new outbreaks -- but sought to allay panic. "The spread of H5N1 to poultry in new areas is of concern as it increases opportunities for further human cases to occur," it said, while stressing that the H5N1 virus "does not spread easily from birds to humans."
In a further worrying sign, a new study said researchers have identified a mutated form of H5N1 bird flu that is resistant to Tamiflu, the drug being stockpiled around the world to counter a feared influenza pandemic.
Turkey claims to have outbreak under control
Birds are buried and the ground above them disenfected
At the center of the crisis in Turkey, the environment ministry on Friday banned the hunting of wild birds -- but officials remained confident the disease had been successfully contained. "It looks like it is dying out," ministry spokesman Faruk Demirel told AFP.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tried to calm fears, breaking his dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast on Thursday with a forkful of chicken salad after the confirmation that the H5N1 virus had been detected in his country. "Do you know what this is?" he asked reporters. "I hope you will change your headlines from now on," he joked.
But Turkish producers said poultry sales slid by up to 50 percent, and pharmacists reported surging demand for anti-viral drug Tamiflu. "I would describe the situation as pure panic," pharmacist Hasan Erdem said in downtown Ankara.
Cull speeds up as Romania chases containment
There are plans to slaughter some 40,000 birds in coming days
In Romania, veterinary teams accompanied by police sped up the slaughter of poultry in a three-kilometer (two-mile) zone around the backyard farm in the Danube delta where a bird virus had been found.
On Friday Bucharest said the virus was detected in a second village nearby, in samples taken from a goose and a chicken. "The village was immediately placed in quarantine and all the poultry will be sacrificed," a spokesman said.
The EU commission slapped on a ban on live bird imports on Turkey on Monday even before confirming the presence of HN51. It took a similar step Thursday against Romania after the presence of an undetermined strain of bird flu was confirmed.
Germany locks up its flocks
European nations are working to keep the virus from spreading
The German government called Friday on regional states to take rapid steps to enclose flocks of poultry in regions where there is intensive farming of birds to protect them against any possible bird flu epidemic.
In zones at risk "enclosure measures" of "open air" poultry need to be taken, Alexander Müller, secretary of state at the ministry of consumer protection, said.
Geese and ducks should be segregated from chickens, as far as possible, he said after a meeting of representatives of the 16 regional states which have responsibility in this area. Three states -- Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and North Rhine-Westphalia -- have already ordered poultry to be kept inside until November 30.
Special measures are also planned to avoid the possibility of bird flu infecting pigs, Müller said.
Helmut Born, secretary-general of the Federation of German Farmers, called Friday for a nationwide ban on the raising of poultry in the open air.
EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the bird flu threat at an emergency meeting in Luxembourg next week, primarily focused on world trade talks but with the avian influenza crisis forcing itself onto the menu.