Ireland and EU move to halt spread of bird flu

IRELAND and other EU countries have agreed to take steps to ensure poultry does not come into contact with wild birds that may carry the avian flu virus.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation issued a 'call to arms' on the danger to humans.

Each country will have three weeks to decide on the action and must tell the European Commission, which is coordinating the campaign, the details by November 5.

Poultry farmers are expected to be told to keep their birds indoors, especially in high-risk wetland areas where migrating birds will winter, while the import of all poultry, feathers and exotic birds from infected areas has been banned.

Farmers, hunters and the general public will be asked to help with the early detection system by reporting danger signs that the virus may have reached Ireland.

It will be up to each country to decide what areas are high risk and to adopt measures to reduce the likelihood of contamination, a meeting of experts from the member states agreed.

Sally Gaynor, senior veterinary inspector with the Department of Agriculture and Food, said the fact that the virus is in Turkey and is likely to be in Romania changes things considerably in terms of the previous risk assessment.

The deadly form of the virus has been confirmed in Turkey and later today the results of tests on fowl in Romania are expected to show the virus has moved even farther into Europe.

The danger is that it could be introduced to Ireland as birds begin to migrate ahead of winter.

The latest reported cases are in the Danube Delta but Oran O'Sullivan of Birdwatch Ireland said few, if any, birds migrate from there to Ireland. "We are permanently monitoring the wetlands and if there are any suspect dead birds we will be aware of it," he said.

Director of the World Health Organisation's alert and response unit, Mike Ryan, said there was no need to panic, but the latest outbreaks meant it was time for action.

"It represents a call to arms on human health. We have to accelerate work in many countries on the human preparedness side," he said.

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