Bird Flu Spreads to Turkey, EU Bans Imports of Live Turkish Birds

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 11, 2005 (ENS) - The European Commission Monday adopted a ban on all imports of Turkish live birds and untreated feathers, following the first confirmed report of the avian influenza virus in Turkey over the weekend.

Imports of live poultry, eggs and fresh poultry meat from Turkey were not allowed in the European Union before the current ban was imposed, so no new rules were needed for these products.

EU member states are directed to implement the import ban immediately, and the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health will review the decision on Wednesday.

Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection said, "The detection of avian influenza in Turkey is very worrying, given its proximity to EU borders. We do not know yet whether this is the same virulent virus that has caused such widespread destruction in Asia, and we can only hope that it isnít. However, any hesitation in reacting to this development might pose a serious risk to animal and perhaps even to human health, which is why we are imposing an immediate import ban."

Samples of the virus found in Turkish birds are being shipped to the Community reference laboratory this morning for further tests.


These Turkish turkeys are healthy, but 1,700 others caught a flu virus and died last weekend. (Photo credit unknown)
On Friday, Dr. Nihat Pakdil, general director of protection and control with Turkey's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs in Ankara, notified the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) of the first outbreak of avian influenza in the country.

The disease killed 1,700 turkeys on a farm in Balikesir, in the western part of the country, 100 other turkeys were destroyed and the premises were disinfected, Turkish officials said.

Lab tests have identified the virus as a type A, subtype H5, but no further identification is yet available, so health officials cannot yet say if this is the same highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus that has been endemic in South East Asia since 2003, resulting in the death or destruction of over 150 million birds.

The H5N1 virus has infected more than 110 humans in four Asian countries, and 63 of these people have died. Health officials worry that the bird flu virus might mix with a human flu virus and mutate into a new organism that would spread quickly among humans, causing a global flu pandemic.

"The Commission has responded swiftly to the threat of avian influenza since it first emerged in Asia, and we will continue to take every possible measure to seek to prevent this virus from entering the EU," Kyprianou said.


Markos Kyprianou of Cyprus is European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
"We have offered assistance to Turkey and the measures we have taken against imports will be reviewed in the coming days, when we have the final test results," he said.

The EU has followed the situation closely, working with the OIE and the Food and Agriculture Organization to try to combat the virus in this region, offering financial and technical support to affected countries, and increasing vigilance against the disease within its own borders.

In April 2005, the Commission put forward a proposal for a Directive to update EU avian influenza measures based on the developing situation and taking into account new scientific knowledge on the disease Ė including its potential impact on human health.

Reports of the disease spreading westwards into Russia and Kazakhstan in August 2005 prompted the Commission and member states to step up efforts to keep avian influenza from entering Europe, and to review the risk-reducing measures in place.

Among the measures agreed upon were increased surveillance - particularly of wild birds - mandatory reporting to national veterinary authorities of abnormal wild bird deaths, and the release of almost 900,000 euro from the EU budget to co-finance extended monitoring of birds for the avian influenza viruses.

Import bans are already in place for exports from Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam, due to the incidence of avian influenza in these countries.

Romania reported on Friday a suspected case of avian influenza in the Danube Delta region following a serological positive reaction in ducks. The authorities have reacted promptly and rigorously and kept the Commission continuously informed, said Kyprianou.

A Commission team of experts is currently in Bucharest and is cooperating with the Romanian authorities and experts. So far no virus has been isolated but further tests are ongoing.

The European Commission will review the situation with the member states at the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health meeting on Wednesday and will determine whether further action is necessary in light of the final results of the tests.

For more information on the European response to the threat of avian influenza, click here.