Cablegate: Poland Responds to Avian Flu Outbreaks

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. WARSAW 03212

B. WARSAW 03364

1. Summary. In response to the confirmed outbreak of H5N1
avian influenza in Romania and Turkey, the GOP has taken
several steps to prepare for a potential outbreak on Polish
soil. An emergency anti-epidemic committee has been formed
that cuts across key ministries and agencies, including
Health, Interior, and the Chief Veterinary Inspectorate. The
committee meets weekly. The GOP has scheduled emergency
preparedness drills for the end of October. Regulations
issued on October 17 require all domestic birds be moved
inside enclosed areas and prohibit sales of live fowl.
Embassy Warsaw is working with the Chief Veterinary
Inspectorate (CVI) to organize training by USDA experts in
emergency response management and communications during
animal disease outbreaks. End Summary.

2. An outbreak of Avian Influenza (AI) in Poland could
devastate the Polish poultry industry with annual exports
valued at almost 30 million Euros. There are approximately
900,000 farms that raise birds in Poland, the majority of
which are small farms that raise a few chickens, ducks or
turkeys for subsistence consumption. An AI outbreak would
likely ravage this large segment of Polish rural society and
the central government would be called upon to provide
compensation to farmers.

3. Based on information from the recent outbreaks in Romania
and Turkey, the CVI has heightened surveillance in bird
migration areas (e.g., the northern lakes region of Poland)
but not around farms. According to Poland's Chief Veterinary
Officer, winter migration of birds will peak in the coming
weeks and the threat of an AI outbreak this fall will
disappear by the end of November, assuming cold weather
arrives. A warm fall would extend the migration window. He
added that heightened surveillance (which taxes the resources
of his office) would resume in mid-March, about the time
returning birds would be expected to reach Poland. He opined
that an AI outbreak in southern wintering areas would almost
guarantee an outbreak in Poland next spring, as birds
returned to summer nesting areas.

4. In response to the most recent AI outbreaks, on October
17, the CVI announced that farmers must keep their flocks
confined in enclosed (fenced) areas. The same regulation
prohibits the sale of live fowl. These new regulations and
information about AI clinical signs and basic biosecurity
precautions to take when handling sick birds have been put on
the CVI's website and on handbills disseminated this week to
local (county and town) officials throughout Poland.
Officials have been instructed to distribute them to farmers
and post them on town and church bulletin boards.
Enforcement will begin next week and violators face hefty
fines and up to three years in jail. Hunting wild fowl is
still permitted for the time being and hunters have been
instructed to be alert for sick birds. If a bird appears
sick, hunters are to shoot it and several nearby birds and
bring them to CVI officials for testing.

5. According to the CVI, major poultry farms are taking
precautions beyond those required to ensure the safety of
their flocks. The CVI has been working closely with the two
major poultry producer associations in Poland, as well as
smaller associations (e.g., ostrich association) to educate
farmers about AI and inform them of the new restrictions.

6. In addition to ramping up surveillance and restricting
farm bird movement, the CVI has established a small emergency
center based on ideas gleaned from a visit to the USG
emergency center in Beltsville, MD, last winter. The center
is small, but has its own telephone and fax lines, email
addresses, Internet access and soon, video conferencing
capability. In addition, Embassy Warsaw is working closely
with the CVI to complete plans for training in emergency
response management and emergency communications during
animal disease outbreaks. USDA experts will give the
training, scheduled for November 14-17. AI-specific training
(risk assessment, epidemiology, etc.) is planned for early
next year.

Preparing for Possible Outbreaks
7. In meetings with Secretary of State Zbigniew Podraza,
Ministry of Health, Econ Counselor learned that the GOP has
marshaled PLN 300 million (approximately USD 93 million) in
reserve funding to combat an avian influenza epidemic or
pandemic. PLN 100 million of this amount has been dedicated
for purchasing other medications and disinfection equipment.
The GOP has allocated an additional PLN 20 million for
vaccinations against H5N1 in humans, though it is not clear
how doses can be purchased since a vaccine has not yet been
developed. Ministry of Health officials stressed that the GOP
views avian influenza as more of an economic threat than a
public health problem at this point.

8. The GOP is clearly taking the threat of an avian
influenza epidemic and possible pandemic seriously. The
threat of an outbreak has been front page news for the past
several days. Flu vaccinations have disappeared from
pharmacy stocks across the country, despite the fact that the
"flu shot" will not provide any protection against avian
influenza. The GOP faces a stiff challenge in disseminating
information and enforcing the new regulation on keeping
poultry contained and banning the sale of live birds. The
Polish countryside is expansive and the extent to which local
veterinary authorities will be able to conduct adequate
monitoring remains to be seen. The migratory patterns of
birds wintering to the South will most certainly mean that
some potential carriers of H5N1 will pass through Poland next
spring. Though it seems unlikely, it is possible that the
virus has already passed through Polish territory, though no
suspected outbreaks have been detected. On the bright side,
most of Poland's poultry is produced by large-scale
industrial farmers with modern facilities that are operated
entirely indoors. GOP officials confirm that these farmers
are taking appropriate precautions. End comment.

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