The H5N1 bird flu virus has been found in dead swans in Italy and Greece. It's the first time the deadly virus has been detected in the EU.
The infected swans in Italy
The H5N1 strain of bird flu which is potentially deadly for humans has reached the European Union, having been detected in members Greece and Italy as well as in Bulgaria, officials said Saturday.
Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace said the highly pathogenic strain, responsible for the deaths of some 90 people, mainly in Asia, had been found in two dead swans on the island of Sicily and was suspected in at least half-a-dozen birds elsewhere in the south of the country.
The EU Commission in Brussels for its part said that Italian authorities "confirmed outbreaks of H5N1 on the eastern coast of Sicily, in Taranto (Puglia) and in Calabria."
Storace said a total of 17 swans had been found dead in Sicily as well as the Calabria and Puglia regions, of which at least half were carrying a flu virus.
No human infection from wild birds, assures minister
Storace tried to calm fears by saying that so far no one had caught the virus directly from wild birds. All the human cases so far have been contracted from domestic poultry infected by wild birds.
"We are relatively unworried as regards human health but there are reasons for concern for animal health," he said.
Storace was to sign an order banning for 20 days all transport of living domestic animals that may be infected by the virus in the three affected regions.
The measures being applied by Italy are the establishment of a high-risk area (three-kilometer protection zone) around each of the outbreaks and a surrounding surveillance zone of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles), the European Commission said.
In the protection zone, poultry must be kept indoors, movement of poultry is banned except directly to the slaughterhouse and the dispatch of meat outside the zone is forbidden except where products have undergone the controls provided for in EU food controls legislation.
In both the protection zone and the surveillance zone, on-farm biosecurity measures must be strengthened, hunting of wild birds is banned and disease awareness of poultry owners and their families must be carried out, the commission said.
Greece 's swan deaths link to H5N1 confirmed
Fears of infection in Greece, first aroused in October, have now been realized
The measures have already been agreed by Greece following the discovery of dead swans in the northern Salonika region, which were confirmed Saturday to have been carrying H5N1.
A goose infected with the H5 bird flu virus was also found on the Aegean island of Skyros but it was not yet known if it was the H5N1 strain.
"In all regions where the H5 or H5N1 virus is detected planned preventative steps are enforced by official health authorities; therefore there is no reason to take new measures," the Greek agriculture ministry said, warning against panicking as no poultry farms had been affected.
Fresh outbreaks in Bulgaria, Romania
In Brussels the European Commission said the H5N1 strain had also been found in wild swans in the Bulgarian wetland region of Vidin, close to the Romanian border, last week.
Experts are investigating the return of the H5N1 virus to the Danube delta
In Romania, health officials on Saturday ordered tests after a possible new case of bird flu of the H5 strain was detected at a farm in the Danube delta, the agriculture ministry said. Culling of poultry in Sarina Suf began Saturday morning.
The avian influenza situation in Italy and other affected countries will be reviewed by the EU's Standing Committee on the Food and Chain and Animal Health which meets Thursday and Friday.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Group of Eight industrial powers warned Saturday of the risk of a bird flu pandemic.
Detection of the virus within the European Union appeared to show an alarmingly rapid spread of the disease, which was also confirmed in the past week to have crossed into Africa for the first time.
Fears of rapid, unrestrained spread across Africa
"We call on the donor community to provide financial support to poor countries fighting the epidemic," said a G8 statement issued after finance ministers wrapped up talks.
A "highly pathogenic" strain of the H5N1 virus has been found in poultry stocks in Nigeria
Nigeria announced Wednesday Africa's first infections with the H5N1 strain.
The spread of the disease to Africa has led to fears it may run wild, infecting more people and providing more opportunities for the virus to mutate into a form able to jump from human to human.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu found in Nigerian poultry is the same virus previously detected in Turkey, Europe and China, which suggests it was brought to West Africa by migrant birds, an expert with the World Organization for Animal Health said Friday.