Europe Increases Measures to Halt Bird Flu | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.04.2003
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Europe Increases Measures to Halt Bird Flu

The European Commission on Tuesday strengthened precautionary measures aimed at stopping a contagious bird virus that has already spread from the Netherlands to Belgium and claimed the life of a Dutch veterinarian.


Belgian and Dutch poultry exports have been banned.

Commission officials in Brussels banned the export of Belgian poultry products throughout the European Union and to other countries until Friday. Over the weekend there were at least two new confirmed cases of the flu in Belgium's eastern Limburg region. The country has already slaughtered a quarter of a million birds to halt the disease.

The avian flu spilled over into Belgium from the Netherlands, where it has devastated the poultry industry. Since the disease's discovery in February, Dutch farmers have culled 15 million birds out of a total population of 100 million. The export ban alone is costing the Dutch poultry industry an estimated €2 million ($2.2 million) a day.

Bird flu in victim's lungs

The Dutch Health Ministry said on Saturday that the flu had also caused the death of a Dutch veterinarian. The 57-year-old man died on Thursday after catching pneumonia two days after working on a farm where bird flu infections had been discovered.

“The severity of this case is surprising, but similar instances are to be expected,” Uwe Truyen from the University of Leipzig told the German press agency DPA. He said he suspected that the veterinarian had also been infected with another virus, which weakened his immune system.

But investigators in Holland told New Scientist magazine that large amounts of the bird flu had been found in the man's lungs, but no other viruses that could have caused his death.

Dutch public health officials have also detected the illness in pigs on five farms in the Gelder Valley region, New Scientist reported.

The bird flu's spread has caused concern that the poultry virus could spark an epidemic like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has hit several countries in Asia and Canada. But officials from the World Health Organization said the bird flu had little in common with SARS and there was no evidence that it could transfer to humans. Six people died in Hong Kong in 1997 from an outbreak of a bird virus.

In Holland, health officials also sought to assuage public fears the bird flu had mutated into something that could easily spread among humans. "We now know there's no mutation of the virus, we know for sure that the vet died of the original bird flu. It's very good to know that," Dutch Health Ministry spokesman Bas Kuik told the news agency Reuters.

Governments encourage vaccinations

Both the Dutch and Belgian governments have stepped up human flu and bird flu vaccination efforts for workers who come into regular contact with fowl that could be affected by the illness. In addition to the vet, some workers culling the birds have reported eye-infections and flu symptoms. Kuik even suggested on Tuesday the vet's death might have been prevented if he had obtained a vaccination.

"If he had taken his anti-virals he probably wouldn't have died," Kuik told Reuters.

In Germany, small groups of birds near the Dutch and Belgian borders have been culled as a precaution, but no confirmed cases have yet been found.

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