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Bird Flu Spreads In Western Europe

European Union veterinary experts on Wednesday backed plans to boost surveillance of migratory birds and stricter bans on imports as officials scrambled to find ways to curb the spread of deadly bird flu in Europe.

With Austria and Germany saying wild birds in their countries tested positive for deadly H5N1, the European Commission approved more than $2.26 million for surveillance programs and added testing to ensure early detection of bird flu outbreaks.

The panel of veterinary experts also backed plans to suspend the import of untreated feathers from all non-EU countries.

"The aim of these national surveillance programs is to provide early detection of cases of avian influenza, particularly in wild birds and poultry in the European Union," said EU spokesman Philip Tod.

He said samples need to be taken from both wild and domestic birds. The plan foresees testing 60,000 wild birds and 300,0000 domestic birds.

In other developments:

  • Italy said Wednesday that tests showed two more wild swans in southern Italy died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, raising the number of cases in the country to eight.
  • German medical experts said Wednesday that further tests on samples from two dead swans found Tuesday on a beach on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen confirmed the birds were Germany's first known cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.
  • At least nine dead swans have been found on Danish islands in the Baltic Sea, near the German island where two birds were discovered. Tests were being conducted on the birds to establish the cause of death.
  • An Austrian laboratory said two swans tested positive for H5N1. Samples have been sent to the EU reference lab.
  • Concerns about bird flu blocked 2.2 tons of Brazilian poultry from coming into Albania through Italy, Albanian officials said. The World Bank pledged $5.95 million to help Albania fight bird flu, the government said.
  • Three swans in southern Hungary have tested positive for an H5 subtype of bird flu, and further tests were being carried out in Britain to determine the exact strain, the European Commission said.
  • France ordered all poultry either vaccinated or confined indoors as a precaution against the spread of bird flu. Sweden and Denmark also required farmers to keep poultry indoors, and Norway banned outdoor poultry in eight southern counties.
  • The Dutch agriculture ministry urged commercial poultry farmers to get their birds indoors as soon as possible — before the Feb. 20 order goes into effect, if possible.
  • Farmers in Switzerland also will be required to keep poultry in roofed enclosures starting Feb. 20.
  • Iraqi authorities have declared a bird flu alert in a southern province and called for security forces to prevent people from carrying birds in and out of the area.
  • Nigerian authorities working to contain Africa's first known bird flu outbreak have killed more than 140,000 birds, said Shehu Bawa, the head of the bird flu committee in Kano state, where the outbreak was reported last week.

    The EU experts, meeting for two days of bird flu talks, focused on additional measures EU governments can take to stop the spread of the virus, including boosting checks at farms and wetlands, Tod said.

    All 25 EU governments last year signed up to guidelines to help prevent the spread of bird flu, including setting up protection zones in outbreak areas to halt the movement of farmed poultry or hunting of fowl. Culling is also carried out if needed.

    On Wednesday, Gudjon Magnusson of the World Health Organization warned that five countries in or bordering western Europe have recorded large outbreaks: Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Romania and Turkey.

    "It is up to us to see that avian flu doesn't become an epidemic in Europe," he said in Kiev, Ukraine.

    David Nabarro, the U.N. coordinator for combatting bird flu, warned that Ukraine — where H5N1 has spread to 24 villages, with suspicious bird deaths in 18 others — is at high risk of further outbreaks.

    "The threat is still there," he said in Kiev. "Avian influenza will continue to come to Ukraine ... health services must be ready and prepared to deal with people who are infected with avian flu and to be ready for the possible arrival of human-to-human transmission."

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