Europe bans live bird imports

The decision to ban pet birds but not poultry, initially valid for a month, was backed by a committee of EU veterinarians.

The discovery of a lethal strain of bird flu in a parrot that died while in quarantine in Britain last week raised concerns that infection may arrive on the island via pets.

“These measures… aim to strengthen further the EU’s defences against avian influenza,” said the commission in a statement.

The new ban covers captive live birds other than poultry imported for commercial purposes, while separate measures were agreed for private imports of pet birds, the commission said.

The ban will come into force after it is formally approved by the EU commission in the next few days.

In Germany, officials said two geese tested positive for flu in initial checks at a lake at Neuwied, in western Germany, however it is not known whether it is the deadly H5N1 strain.

The lake is a stopping-off place for birds migrating from northern Europe, mainly swans and coots, local police told AFP.

If confirmed, it would be the first known emergence of bird flu among birds in the wild in western Europe.

Europe strengthens defences

In a separate measure to stop the disease spreading, the EU commission earlier on Tuesday confirmed an EU ban on live poultry imports from Croatia, after a second outbreak was detected there this week.

The discovery of the H5N1 strain in birds in Turkey and Romania has prompted the EU to take immediate action against the spread of the virus, which has killed at least 60 people across Asia.

Health experts fear that a lethal strain of bird flu may at some stage jump the species barrier in Europe and mix with normal influenza genes to create a pandemic that would be difficult to control.

Measures taken by member states include France’s banning of the outdoor rearing of poultry across about a quarter of the country, and a Russian research centre has announced plans to test a prototype bird flu vaccine on human volunteers next month.

Portuguese authorities are testing the bodies of 17 geese and seagulls to see whether they died of avian flu.

The EU’s Food Safety Authority, based in Parma, Italy, said it plans to advise consumers against eating raw eggs, and also warn that poultry meat should be well cooked.

Flu spreads in Asia

On Tuesday, Indonesian authorities confirmed that a fourth person in the country succumbed to bird flu.

Jakarta’s health ministry said a 23-year old from Bogor, West Java, died two days after being hospitalised in late September, and test results confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain.

In China, around 2,100 geese and chicken were reported infected in the country’s eastern Anhui province.

It is China’s second major outbreak of bird flu in a week and the sixth this year.

The affected village and its surrounding area have been sealed off, according to a Chinese Ministry of Agriculture report to the World Organisation for Animal Health.

So far, 550 birds have died and almost 45,000 have been culled.

A few days ago, 2,600 birds were found dead at a farm in the northern Inner Mongolia region, prompting the culling of another 91,000 birds.

While human cases of bird flu are for now linked to the consumption of affected birds, health officials fear that the strain will mutate and cause a widespread pandemic that would kill millions of people around the world.

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