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Germany Confirms Mainland Bird Flu as Virus Goes Global

February 20, 2006

The bird flu outbreak on the northern German island of Rügen has spread to the mainland, officials say. Meanwhile new cases of H5N1 infection in Italy, France and India raise the threat of a global pandemic.

The deadly H5N1 virus has spread to mainland GermanyImage: AP

Deadly bird flu was detected for the first time on the German mainland, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 61, animal health experts said Sunday.

The Friedrich-Löffler Institute for animal health said two new cases of the H5N1 virus that can be fatal to humans were detected in a buzzard and a gull found dead in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Pomerania. Earlier Sunday, 18 new cases of H5N1 were confirmed on the Baltic island of Rügen, also part of the state.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday surveyed measures taken to combat bird flu on Rügen, as army disinfection experts deployed to curb the spread of the virus. "The situation is serious," she said after meeting with local crisis teams working to contain the outbreak.

She said that if the situation worsened, "the federal government will be present with all the means at its disposal."

Ministers rush to stem the wave of infection

Landwirtschaftsminister Horst Seehofer und Till Backhaus auf Rügen Vogelgrippe
Agriculture Minister Seehofer (left) and Till Backhaus face the pressImage: AP

Mecklenburg-Pomerania's agriculture minister, Till Backhaus, said the 18 new cases on Rügen included swans, cormorants, geese and a buzzard. He said the state would begin slaughtering domestic fowl including chickens and ducks Sunday as a precaution to prevent a broader outbreak of the virus. Backhaus declined to say how many birds would be killed.

Meanwhile 19 Bundeswehr army specialists were sent to Rügen to disinfect vehicles and people who may have come in contact with the virus, a defense ministry spokesman said. All vehicles and bicycles leaving the island had their tires decontaminated in special disinfectant baths. Pedestrians were told to have their shoes disinfected.

The island is popular with tourists and has been inundated with reporters since the outbreak earlier this month, which experts said increased the risk of the virus being carried.

"The problem is that journalists get very close to the dead animals and also film the collection of cadavers," the president of the Friedrich Löffler Institute for Animal Health, Thomas

Mettenleiter, said. "Then the camera teams go with their contaminated equipment and clothing directly where the birds are. That is completely irresponsible and exactly what we have been trying to prevent."

Germany has confirmed three cases of the highly pathogenic strain of the H5N1 virus and was awaiting confirmation of another 10 from a European Union approved laboratory in England.

Emergency measures urged as lock-down takes hold

Packungen des Medikaments Tamiflu des Schweizer Pharmakonzerns Roche
Germany is rushing to get enough Tamiflu for 20 percent of the populationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Health Minister Ulla Schmidt called on Germany's 16 states to ensure that anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza are available for 20 percent of the population.

Germany has begun enforcing an order to keep all poultry indoors, joining the Netherlands, Slovenia, Denmark, France, Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden in doing so.

More infected birds were found in Italy and France. In India seven people were under observation with symptoms of the disease.

In Italy, the Institute of Animal Health in the northeastern city of Padua announced the virus had been detected in a total of 16 birds in the country.

H5N1 was also confirmed in Tuzla and Navodari on the shores of the Black Sea in Romania, bringing to 33 the number of sites where it has been found nationwide, a veterinary official said. Samples from the latest Romanian cases were sent to the EU reference laboratory to establish whether it was the highly pathogenic form of the H5N1 virus.

Nearly 35,000 birds will be culled from Monday morning in Romania, a top official for the Constanta region, Danut Culetu, told Mediafax news agency

France faces economic implications as bird flu arrives

Vogelgrippe erreicht Frankreich Ente
The H5N1 virsu was found in a dead wild duck prompting panic in FranceImage: AP

French authorities vowed to spare no effort in containing avian influenza after the country became the sixth in the European Union, and the most westerly, to be hit by the virus.

Europe's top producer and the world's fourth-largest exporter of poultry, France confirmed that H5N1 had been identified in a wild duck found dead in the central-eastern Ain region.

French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand stressed that the dead duck was an isolated case, although food authorities said tests were continuing on some 15 birds found dead in various parts of the country.

"There will be no financial or economic obstacle in preparing France in the face of these risks," he said on Europe 1 radio, as the country's main farmers' union called for more state help in tackling the threat.

The plight of EU poultry producers, faced with plummeting sales, will be discussed by agriculture ministers Monday. Sales are down by 70 percent in Italy, 40 to 50 percent in Greece and 15 percent in France.

But in Brussels officials held out little hope in the short term. "We're sympathetic but there is very little we, from the European budget, can actually do," a European Commission spokesman said.

Virus spreading through Europe and beyond

Vogelgrippe - Rügen wird Schutzzone
Europe is putting up buffer zones but the virus knows no bordersImage: dpa-Report

The other EU member states so far to have detected the H5N1 virus are Austria, Greece, and Slovenia. There have also been cases in Bulgaria, Croatia, Ukraine and Russia. Britain, too, said the risk of bird flu there was "more likely" following the French case.

"It's not inevitable, but it is clear, obviously, that it's more likely than it was when it was further away," Agriculture Minister Ben Bradshaw said.

In India, seven people were under observation while up to half a million birds were being slaughtered Sunday after the presence of H5N1 was confirmed. But fears that the virus caused the death of a farmer in the western Gujarat state proved unfounded.