To prevent the spread of bird flu in Europe, the German and Dutch governments have introduced plans to require free-range poultry be kept indoors. But experts say an outbreak in Europe is only a question of time.
The spread of the virus in Siberia concerns European politicians
To counter the possible spread of the bird flu virus in Germany, the federal government in Berlin has agreed on mandatory action to keep poultry under shelter. The protective measure is expected to be in place by mid-September at the latest, if by then the virus has spread west of Russia's Ural Mountains, a high-ranking official from the ministry of consumer protection said on Thursday.
The decision is the result of an summit of experts convened by the ministry. The government is also considering intensifying airport controls of people arriving from Russia to identify and isolate passengers who have contracted the disease.
The Dutch Agriculture Ministry has already ordered all commercial poultry farmers to bring their fowl indoors by Monday to prevent them from catching avian flu from wild birds.
German minister for consumer protection Renate Künast
The German consumer protection minister Renate Künast said on Thursday she was worried about the outbreak of a deadly strain of bird flu in Russia, fearing that the disease could reach Western Europe through migrating birds.
"We are expecting the worst," she said. There was a likely chance the disease could spread during the upcoming bird migration period, the minister added.
Bird flu in Europe only question of time
World Health Organization experts say the bird flu virus is now endemic in parts of Asia despite the slaughter of tens of millions of domestic fowl, which are able to pass the virus on to humans.
It has now been confirmed that the deadly bird flu virus -- the H5N1 strain of the influenza virus -- has reached Russia. It has already killed almost 60 people since sweeping through Asia since 2003.
Last week the European Union already banned the import of live birds and feathers from Russia and Kazakhstan. But German disease watchdogs say that an outbreak of bird flu is only a matter of time.
"All experts agree that the possibility of an outbreak is larger than ever before in the past 50 years," said Reinhard Kurth, director of the Robert-Koch-Institute in Berlin. "They say -- and I fully agree -- that this is going to happen, but whether this year already or in the next three years remains unclear."
Virus more likely to mutate into deadly form
Health experts fear that the longer the virus survives, the more likely it is to mutate into a form which can pass easily between humans.
Vaccination in Vietnam
"We are concerned that the virus infects a human that already has contracted a strain of normal influenza and this influenza will mix with this avian form," said Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the World Health Organization. "As a result, a new strain could be formed that the human immune system has never seen before and that would ignite a pandemic."
On Friday German disease-control experts were set to propose detailed plans to prevent an outbreak of bird flu among local bird populations and come up with ways to protect the German population. On Thursday they had criticized authorities for being unprepared to meet a possibly major health crisis. EU countries are expected to meet next week to discuss ways of better coordinating their strategies for dealing with the illness.