The European Union today said it was extending a ban on the importation of pet birds and feathers to cover most of Russia.
EU spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen added that preliminary tests by its reference laboratory on a Greek island bird flu sample were negative for the H5 strain, but said more tests were needed.
She said EU veterinary experts meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels “endorsed a ban on imports of pet birds and feathers from Siberia to cover the whole territory of Russia, with the exception of Kaliningrad, Leningrad, Karelia, Murmansk and St. Petersberg”.
The decision came after Moscow informed the EU that bird flu had reached western Russia with an outbreak in a village 200 miles south of the capital.
“We yesterday received confirmation by the Russian veterinary authorities of an outbreak of avian influenza H5N1, in the region of Tula, south of Moscow,” Ahrenkilde Hansen said. “The geographical scope of that decision has been decided on the basis of a risk assessment which has been carried out by the Commission and the member states,” she said, adding the measures will stay in place for six months.
Russian officials were conducting further tests to determine if it was the same lethal strain of H5N1 found further east, in Siberia, in July and across Asia, where 60 people have died since 2003 from bird flu.
Ahrenkilde Hansen also said that the EU’s reference laboratory in Weybridge, had received a sample from Greece, but said a first test of that sample was found to be negative for the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza.
“A preliminary test was carried out on that sample which proved negative,” she said, but said further tests would be carried out to see whether the suspected outbreak on a Greek island was of the H5 strain.
“The Commission has indeed asked for further samples to be sent for testing,” she said.
Greece has said a case of bird flu on a remote Aegean island had been narrowed to the H5 type.
The Commission sent three EU experts to Greece yesterday to help in identifying the flu strain.
Romania said yesterday that tests confirmed the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain in a second location in Romania’s eastern Danube Delta region.
EU veterinary experts were discussing whether the H5N1 bird flu strain was spreading further across Europe, after Macedonia sent suspicious samples for testing in EU laboratories.
The experts, drawn from across the 25-nation bloc, were assessing the latest developments in tracking the bird disease and preventing its spread in Europe, officials said.
Last week, the experts adopted new recommendations calling for stepped up monitoring of wetlands and parks to better catch any suspected cases among wild bird flocks, which are being blamed for bringing bird flu to Europe. They left it up to national authorities to decide on whether to ban farmed poultry from going outside.
Austria’s government banned allowing chickens to run free, and ordered the birds to be kept in barns or stalls to minimise the risk of bird flu. German authorities have taken similar steps.
EU health ministers were to hold talks near London tomorrow to assess the risk of a possible flu pandemic and to discuss preparations.