Bird Flu Suspected in Macedonia

By Natasha Dokovska

SKOPJE, Macedonia, October 19, 2005 (ENS) - Macedonia is in a panic over the possibility that bird flu may have entered the country. The deadly bird flu virus H5N1 that has been confirmed in nearby Romania and Greece this week, is suspected in a rural area of Macedonia near the country's border with Greece.

The suspect sample comes from a village called Mogila, near Bitola, about 130 kilometers (70 miles) north of the border with Greece and 130 km from Macedonia's capital Skopje.

This is a rural area of 500 households, which keep a total of about 10,000 chickens.


Macedonian animal health worker places dead chickens in bags while disinfecting a farm in the Mogila region. (Photo Natasha Dokovska)
Macedonian authorities Tuesday banned access to Mogila and its surroundings in an attempt to protect villagers and the remaining poultry. They said that they would monitor a three kilometer zone around the site but did not seal the area off.

Hundreds of chickens have died recently in the area. Of 40 samples taken, all but one showed they died of what Veterinary Administration Director Slobodan Cokrevski said was Newcastle disease, a "well-known plague" among poultry and endemic in many countries.

Cokrevski said the one bird that may have died of bird flu has been sent to the UK for further testing at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, the International Reference Laboratory for avian influenza, recognized by the European Union, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health.

Test results are expected in seven days, Cokrevski said.

Macedonia is also awaiting the results of tests by local authorities on chickens that died near Kumanovo, on the country's northern border with Serbia.

Migratory birds are suspected to be carriers of avian influenza, and some health experts are advising that hunters stop shooting wild birds, until the test results on the infected bird have been received from the British laboratory.

The Macedonian political party VMRO NP, which stands for Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-People's Party, has asked the government to establish a center for managing the bird flu in Macedonia, and has asked the Macedonian authorities if they have a strategy to fight this disease.

Health Minister Vlado Dimovski said that the government of Macedonia is following the situation closely, and that they are in online communication with the World Health Organization.

The health minister announced that Thursday he will ask that the government set aside 60 million denars in the budget for protection of the country from bird flu.