EU to use buffer zones to stop bird flu spread

BUFFER zones with restricted movement for people and animals will be among the precautions taken in the event of an outbreak of avian flu in Ireland.

Yesterday, the disease spread further west as the European Commission reported a first case in France.

A dead wild duck found at Ain near Lyon had the H5 strain and officials expect tests to confirm that it had the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease which has killed at least 91 people worldwide. Hungary is also awaiting confirmation that dead swans carried the deadly strain.

Germany, Italy, Austria, Greece and Slovenia have all confirmed this month that cases of the deadly strain have been found in wild birds. The disease has also spread to Bulgaria and Romania.

In Africa, where the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus first turned up eight days ago in northern Nigeria, the disease continued to spread to more poultry farms and showed signs of having crossed into neighbouring Niger. Egypt also confirmed its first case yesterday.

The head of the EU’s European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said yesterday that people have got to get used to the fact that avian flu is now spreading within the EU.

Italy’s Agriculture Minister is to officially ask the European Commission on Monday for funds to offset the drop in chicken meat sales for poultry farmers but it is not thought that this will succeed.

Yesterday, EU experts agreed a series of measures to be taken in the event of an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus in wild birds and commercial poultry.

A 3km protection zone must be put in place and a further 10km surveillance zone around any area with a suspected or confirmed outbreak among wild birds.

Within these zones all poultry and captive birds must be kept indoors; movement by people, onto and from, poultry farms will be restricted; the movement of poultry and other captive birds must be restricted both within and from the zone, and bird-hunting banned.

If there is an actual or suspected outbreak of the flu in domestic poultry, additional measures must be taken including establishing a buffer zone between affected and non-affected regions.

The size of this zone will depend on the location and where there are other outbreaks nearby. Health and Consumer protection spokesperson Philip Tod said: “If you have outbreaks in two adjoining counties, then both counties could be in the isolated risk zone.”

Only two countries so far, the Netherlands which has a domestic fowl population of 5.2m birds and France, have informed the European Commission they intend to vaccinate domestic birds against the virus.

A sizeable drop in the consumption of chicken meat in Italy is creating serious financial problems for farmers there. The Italian Agriculture minister has said he will ask the commission if it can provide financial assistance to these farmers.

However, Mr Tod said they will be told the commission can do nothing in the current circumstances and that it cannot be compared to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease and its affect on the beef industry a few years’ ago.

“It would have to be linked to an outbreak of the disease on European territory. We do not have any grounds in which to act in the current circumstances in Italy,” said Mr Tod.

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