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EU to Reassess Controls Around German Bird Flu Zone

EU veterinary experts will assess the level of threat and containment at the Bavarian duck farm which was at the center of the latest outbreak of bird flu in Germany in August.

A quarantine barrier at the duck farm in Erlangen, Bavaria

The duck farm in Bavaria was quarantined behind two secure anti-contamination zones

After German authorities set up a protection and surveillance zone around a Bavarian duck farm where the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu broke out earlier this month, EU veterinary experts are expected to reassess the poultry trade and movement restrictions imposed on the German state, the bloc's executive said.

The protection and surveillance zone, set-up as a standard short-term measure to prevent the spread of the disease, has two areas; an initial three-kilometer (1.9-mile) protection radius which is classified as a high-risk area (zone A), and a 10-kilometer surveillance low-risk buffer zone (zone B) which separates the whole area from disease-free parts of Germany.

At present, strict movement controls are in place for poultry inside the high-risk area. Poultry must be kept indoors and gatherings of birds are banned.

After the outbreak, veterinary experts at the European Commission approved the German measures.

"The Commission has examined those measures in collaboration with Germany, and is satisfied that the borders of areas A and B... are at a sufficient distance to the actual location of the outbreak," a notice published on Tuesday in the latest edition of the EU's Official Journal said.

"Areas A and B in Germany can therefore be confirmed and the duration of that regionalization fixed," it said. EU vets representing the bloc's 27 member states will now meet to assess developments in Bavaria and reassess the poultry protection measures in place. This is expected later in the week.

Threat assessment expected in first week of September

A dead duck is tested in Bavaria

Test carried out at the farm leave some questions unanswered

"There is one [meeting] foreseen in early September but the date has not yet been fixed," a Commission official said in an interview with Reuters. "It would be a question of revisiting the Commission decision and if necessary adapting the zones... or making any adaptations that may be necessary if the situation evolves."

The death of more than 400 ducks from the 170,000-strong flock in a short period alerted the farm to the possibility of a bird flu outbreak.

The outbreak was probably more widespread and of longer duration than first thought, veterinary officials admitted after analyzing the data from the Bavarian farm.

Examination of birds destroyed to contain the outbreak revealed that ducks from two other enclosures other than the one where the outbreak was first found had been infected, Ottmar Fick, head of the local veterinary authority said.

Fick noted, however, that it was unclear whether these birds had also been infected with the H5N1 virus, which is potentially deadly to humans.

He added that it was possible that the H5N1 virus had been present for some time on the farm but that the symptoms had shown only in one of the 15 enclosures.

Full scope of outbreak yet to be revealed, says expert

Veterinary experts take away dead foul

EU experts will check the quarantine measures

Experts are still trying to find out where the virus originated. Earlier reports said it might have been transferred in straw.

Not all waterfowl suffered acute symptoms from the virus, and the incubation period could drag on over weeks, Fick said.

He added that it was not clear whether infected birds had been offered for sale commercially. "We cannot exclude delivery," Fick said.

Following the discovery, the remainder of the flock at the farm was destroyed.

The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is fatal to humans but cannot be transferred between humans. It has hit wild water-birds and some domestic poultry in other parts of Germany this year.

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