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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 19:24 GMT 20:24 UK
EU urges watch on migrant birds
Bird injected in Oktyabrskoye, Russia
Russia found at least 11,000 infected birds in Siberia
States in the European Union have been asked to step up checks on migratory flocks for bird flu but there are no plans yet to keep poultry indoors.

The European Commission issued the call after a meeting in Brussels to discuss the threat of flu spreading from Russia and Asia.

Dozens of people have died in Asia from a strain of the virus.

Commission spokesman Philip Tod also announced that work was under way to enforce EU bans on poultry imports.

"The key to this problem is early detection and rapid action," he added.

The Commission, he said, would make financing available to facilitate monitoring in the 25 member-states but he did not give a figure.

A general ban on keeping poultry outdoors, according to the spokesman, was "not considered appropriate to the current risk of disease" from migratory birds.

Local bans

The Netherlands, however, has already ordered its farmers to keep all poultry indoors or in protected enclosures from this week, and Germany is considering similar measures.

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The Dutch suffered a devastating outbreak of the virus among its poultry two years ago.

In the UK, the president of the Veterinary Association, Dr Bob McCracken, warned the spread of the virus to the UK though migrating birds was "inevitable".

Wild birds and free range poultry, he said, were most at risk.

Health officials are concerned that the H5N1 strain of avian flu has spread from the Far East to Russia and Kazakhstan.

Unlike in Asia, where 60 people have died as a result of contact with infected animals, there have so far been no human cases in Russia.

The authorities say their culls of domestic fowl are beginning to bring the situation under control, and it seems to have been confined to provinces east of the Ural Mountains.

Mutation fears

European experts have expressed different views about whether migratory birds are likely to bring the virus to the rest of the continent at all.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I have actually sold my chickens
Chris, Kent

Dr Arnold Bosman, of the European Centre for Disease Control, said that even if the virus did reach Western Europe, members of the public should not yet be unduly concerned.

"Most of the people in Europe who do not have daily close contact with infected or diseased birds... do not have to worry about getting this bird flu," he said.

Those who could be at risk were farmers, veterinarians and poultry workers, he added.

Some officials are worried that the disease could mutate and pass easily between humans, threatening a lethal flu pandemic.

Professor Hugh Pennington, of Scotland's University of Aberdeen, told the BBC that the issue was the one thing "that really keeps [public health officials] awake at night".

There was a fear, he said, that a pandemic could be worse than when flu spread worldwide in 1918, killing 40 million people.

The BBC's Stephen Cviic notes that the main problem in trying to deal with bird flu is uncertainty.

Nobody knows whether a human pandemic is just around the corner or not and the World Health Organization is stockpiling supplies of anti-viral drugs just in case.




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