Avian flu reaches Albania; US to expand testing

Mar 8, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Albania today became the latest European country to confront H5N1 avian influenza in birds, while US officials reported plans to greatly expand testing of wild birds for the virus in Alaska and on the West Coast this spring.

Albanian officials first detected H5N1 in a chicken in a southern village on Feb 23, according to their Mar 7 report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The OIE reference laboratory in Weybridge, England, confirmed the finding yesterday, the report said.

The infected chicken was found near the coastal town of Saranda, about 31 miles north of the Greek border, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report. The OIE notification said 60 birds died of the disease. An agricultural official said about 1,000 birds in the area would be tested.

Albania becomes at least the 18th European country to have H5N1 outbreaks in birds, judging from the OIE chart of affected countries. Most of those countries have reported their first cases since the beginning of February.

In the United States, federal officials concerned that the H5N1 virus will reach North America described plans to test nearly eight times as many wild birds this year as have been tested in the past 10 years, according to a USA Today report.

Starting in April, samples from 75,000 to 100,000 birds in Alaska and along the West Coast will be tested by the departments of Agriculture and Interior and by state wildlife agencies, the report said.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and other officials told the newspaper they expect the virus to arrive on the continent.

That assessment was echoed by OIE Director General Bernard Vallat, according to an AFP report today. He told a French parliamentary commission, "The probability of this strain appearing in Australia is very high. The possibility is also very high for the United States and Canada."

H5N1 could reach the United States via infected birds that spend the winter in Asia and migrate to Alaska in spring, Frank Quimby of the Department of the Interior told USA Today. During the summer, the birds from Asia could pass the virus to birds that migrate south in the fall, said Nicholas Throckmorton of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He said he wouldn't expect the virus to move south until August or later.

Scientists will test birds by capturing them in nets and taking swabs from the throat or cloaca, the story said. Birds killed by hunters will also be tested in Alaska this spring and in West Coast states in the fall.

In other developments concerning H5N1 in animals:

  • Two more dead cats in Germany were found to be infected, according to an AFX News report last night. The cats were found on the same Baltic island where the first infected cat was discovered last week.
  • The virus reached poultry farms in three more states in Nigeria, according to Bloomberg News. Local tests confirmed the virus on commercial and backyard farms in Anambra, Benue, and Rivers states. The latter is in the oil-producing Niger delta region. An Italian lab will run confirmatory tests, the report said.

See also:

Albania's report to the OIE
http://www.oie.int/downld/AVIAN%20INFLUENZA/A2006_AI.php

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