The experts also agreed to consider a request for a poultry vaccination program to halt the further spread of the virus.
"While we have to learn to live with periodic outbreaks of avian influenza in wild birds, the European Union is making every effort to contain avian influenza in wild birds and seek to prevent it reaching commercial poultry," Markos Kyprianou, EU commissioner for public health and consumer protection, said in a statement Thursday (Feb. 16).
Kyprianou said the aim is to "strengthen the range of precautionary measures the Commission has adopted in recent months, which include increased surveillance, confining poultry indoors in risk areas and banning imports of risk products."
He added: "It is understandable that the public is concerned, but they need not be unduly alarmed as all the necessary measures are being, and will continue to be, taken."
The committee has approved 1.8 million euros ($2.1 million) for EU governments to help pay for early-warning surveillance programs to combat the spread of the disease.
Measures to isolate the areas where infected wild birds are found are already in place, but there is growing concern about controlling the spread of the virus if domestic birds catch it.
So far in Europe, the potentially deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Austria, Italy, Germany and the European part of Russia. Croatia, Slovenia and Ukraine are still investigating possible outbreaks.
All affected countries instantly introduced the EU's defense measures, which involve a halt to poultry movement in the affected region, and the construction of a two-mile protection zone and four-mile surveillance zone around the site of the disease.
In the protection zone, all poultry must be kept indoors and cannot be transported except to slaughterhouses. Hunting wild fowl is also banned.
The Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is monitoring the spread of bird flu, has called for greater cooperation to stem the virus.
The FAO has accused government agencies of not communicating sufficiently over plans to tackle bird flu.
The UN body has also called for financial compensation plans to encourage farmers to report suspected outbreaks of infected animals.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU agency tasked with reinforcing Europe's defenses against infectious diseases, is warning of the health risk that the virus poses to people in Europe.
The ECDC is calling on member states to assess who's at risk if H5N1 flu arrives in their country.
"We are particularly concerned about people who keep backyard flocks of birds. All the human cases of avian influenza in Turkey this January, and nearly all the cases found in East Asia in recent years, have been in households that keep birds," ECDC director Zsuzsanna Jakab told IPS Thursday.
"Children in these households may be at particular risk: they should be discouraged from playing with the birds and taught to tell an adult immediately if they see dead or sick birds. People who hunt wild birds also need to be aware that they could be exposed to avian influenza," he added.
The H5N1 virus has killed at least 90 people since it was first detected. Some scientists fear it could mutate into a virus capable of being passed directly between humans, triggering a pandemic.
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February 16, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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