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Avian influenza: EU agrees to stronger measures

Canberra, 18 October 2005

Avian influenza: EU agrees to stronger measures

With a suspected case of Avian Influenza (AI) discovered in Greece overnight, the European Union has unanimously endorsed reinforced measures to reduce the risk of introducing AI into EU poultry farms. The measures focus on strengthening biosecurity measures on farms and introducing early detection systems in high risk areas such as wetlands or farms along migratory flyways.

The 25 Health Ministers from the EU Member States will also meet this week to review the EU’s state of preparedness to counter the possibility of a pandemic. The strengthened biosecurity measures require EU Member States to take appropriate measures, according to national circumstances, to reduce the risk of AI being spread from wild birds to domestic birds.

In particularly high risk areas, this could include keeping poultry indoors. Common EU-wide risk factors were agreed as criteria for applying these measures - the location of farms along migratory flyways, for example, or the distance of holdings from wet areas where migratory water fowl may gather. The keeping of poultry or other domesticated birds in open-air farms was also determined as a risk factor.

Areas with a high density of poultry holdings or where there is much movement between holdings have been labeled as at risk.

The EU’s early detection systems aim to ensure that any sign of AI in poultry or other captive birds is rapidly reported by the owners or keepers to the nationally competent veterinary authority. Specific criteria are set out (for example a drop in egg production, or increased mortality rates) to alert farmers to the signs that indicate that they should call in the authorities.

Each Member State is responsible for identifying the high risk areas in their territory and in implementing appropriate measures to separate wild birds from domesticated birds as soon as possible. EU countries are required to inform the European Commission of the measures taken before 5 November, 2005. With scientists on the ground in Greece, the Commission will continue to follow the situation, as well as the state of affairs in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. The Commission has asked EU Member States to forward the names of experts who can be made available should further technical assistance be needed by countries affected by AI outbreaks.
See below a 17 October statement on AI from the EU Food Chain and Animal Health Committee.

The European Union’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health made the following statement on 14 October, 2005:

"The Standing Committee has today examined the situation in relation to the situation of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) strain H5N1, in particular with regard to the recent developments in Turkey and Romania.

Clear distinction must be made between Avian Influenza recently detected in poultry in Turkey and Romania, Avian Influenza sporadically affecting humans, normal seasonal human influenza, and a possible risk for an influenza pandemic.

The committee unanimously agreed a Decision requiring Member States to assess the risk of H5N1 being introduced to poultry holdings. Appropriate measures must then be taken to prevent contact between wild and domestic species as far as it is practicable to do so. Systems for early detection and prompt reporting of AI should be in place.

Recent information from the outbreaks of AI this week in East Europe (Romania and Turkey) suggests that the disease remains confined to poultry and wild birds and at this stage no human cases have been confirmed. Therefore at present AI does not represent a risk to the general public.

The ECDC considers that the public is far less likely to be exposed in Europe than in Central Asia and the Far East because of the generally greater separation of humans and commercially kept birds in Europe. Occupational health guidance to protect those working with infected birds has been prepared by a number of countries and European level guidance is being prepared by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

In the EU, surveillance in order to rapidly identify a possible introduction of the infection and biosecurity measures at poultry farms have been strengthened. In addition, the Commission, Member States and experts are assessing the available information on relevant migratory bird species. Furthermore, the positive experience from the 2003 epidemics in the EU showed that Community rules, and in particular the contingency plans, that are reviewed and tested periodically, are effective tools for controlling outbreaks of AI. Rules on imports from third countries that are continuously updated play an essential role in the protection of the EU.

Likewise, control on imports at Community borders are being reinforced and special attention is paid to prevent illegal introduction of live birds and poultry products that might pose a risk for AI virus introduction. Nevertheless, there is a general ban for introduction of products of animal origin for personal consumption.

Consumers in Europe are currently concerned on the safety of poultry products such as meat. On this matter WHO states the following “WHO does not at present conclude that any processed poultry products (whole refrigerated or frozen carcasses and products derived from these) and eggs in or arriving from areas currently experiencing outbreaks of avian influenza H5N1 in poultry pose a risk to public health.” In addition, imports of poultry products such as eggs and meat from the affected areas are banned for animal health reasons. Consumers can thus be re-assured.

Outdoor activities that bring people into contact with wild birds, such as hunting and ornithology, need not be restricted at present in the EU. Normal hygiene measures after handling dead birds should be followed (hand washing, safe food preparation etc). Particular attention should be paid to reporting to the authorities any mass change in the behavior of wild birds so as to identify diseased birds. Similarly hunters and other environmental agents and members of the general public are requested to contact the authorities should any abnormal mortality of wild birds be detected. People collecting such dead birds should know the importance of and the need to adhere to proper use of hand hygiene after the contact with them, use of gloves and cleaning and disinfection.

In the event the disease is confirmed or suspected in an area, the role of bird hunting in the dispersion of wild birds and possible further spread of the disease should be assessed and appropriate measures should consequently be taken in the area. Specific restrictive measures should be then taken for the possible role of decoy birds used by hunters in transmitting as well as detecting the infection.

In addition to the existing prohibition of introduction in the EU, trade and non-commercial movements within the Community by hunters of dead specimens of wild birds, and in particular waterfowl, should be strongly discouraged.

The Member States acknowledge and highly appreciate the coordination done by the Commission services working during these recent events in close cooperation with all Member States’ veterinary animal health, public health and wildlife services.”

ENDS

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