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EU Confirms Bird Flu in Turkey Is Deadly Strain

October 14, 2005|Thomas H. Maugh II | Times Staff Writer

A strain of bird flu that reached Turkey last week has been confirmed as the same that has killed 60 people in Asia, heralding the virus' arrival on Europe's doorstep, European Union officials said Thursday.

"The virus found in Turkey is avian flu H5N1," European Union Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.

A virus found in dead birds in Romania has been identified as an H5 strain and a sample has been sent to a lab in England to determine whether it is also H5N1 or a less virulent strain, he said. That identification came only a day after Romanian officials said the birds were not killed by flu.

Test results should be available today, said Debby Reynolds, chief veterinarian at the British Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The EU and several countries immediately imposed a six-month ban on imports of live fowl and packaged meat from the two nations. But some experts say the ban may have a limited effect because the virus is believed to be spread by migrating wildfowl.

The virus was found a week ago in Turkey at a farm near the Aegean and Marmara seas, along a major migratory route. Turkish officials have culled about 7,600 domestic birds in the area and established a 2-mile quarantine zone around the farm where the infected birds were found.

No human cases of the disease have been detected, officials said.

Romanian officials found the H5 virus in 40 ducks and a chicken from the delta of the Danube River, Europe's largest wetlands and a major pathway for fowl from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany. The H5N1 virus previously had been detected in birds in Russia.

The World Organization for Animal Health said Thursday that 3,673 wild waterfowl in Iran had died but that the cause was not yet known.

If migratory birds are the virus carrier, the disease could easily be spread throughout Western Europe because of the abundance of migratory routes in the region, said virologist Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, one of the leading experts on the virus.

Although the virus has so far spread to humans only with great difficulty, officials fear that minor mutations could convert it into a more readily transmissible form that could lead to a pandemic.

The virus has swept through much of Southeast Asia since it surfaced in Hong Kong in 1997. Outbreaks have occurred in Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mongolia and Siberia.

EU officials planned to meet today to discuss possible preventive measures, such as keeping farm animals indoors during the migration season. Kyprianou said the organization might also establish a $1.2-billion fund to provide antiviral agents in the affected countries.

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