Romania fires vet officials as avian flu spreads

May 18, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Romania has fired two top veterinary officials and arrested a private veterinarian amid spreading outbreaks of avian influenza in the past 2 days, according to news agencies.

Meanwhile, Denmark has found an H5 avian flu virus in domestic birds for the first time, and Nigeria is reporting a new outbreak of H5N1 in poultry after a lull of several weeks, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The president and vice president of Romania's National Veterinary Health Authority were dismissed yesterday for failing to get poultry companies to take proper biosecurity precautions, AFP reported. That word came as the government announced that at least 10 new avian flu outbreaks in poultry had been discovered.

The government had reported the discovery of H5N1 avian flu on commercial poultry farms in three central counties several days ago. Before that, the virus had been found in several dozen backyard poultry flocks starting in October 2005, but had not been detected on commercial farms.

AFP reported today that Romanian authorities had arrested a veterinarian named Virgil Udrea for allegedly allowing poultry infected with avian flu to be sold to farmers. He worked at an industrial farm called Drakom Silva in Codlea in central Romania. Government officials say the current outbreaks began at Drakom Silva.

The head of Drakom Silva and the director of another farm were also detained, on charges of "spreading disease among animals," according to AFP.

Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur said samples from seven farms had been sent to Britain for confirmatory testing, the story said.

Flutur said another 25 possible outbreaks were under investigation, according to AFP. "The number of locations where the presence of the virus is confirmed is sure to increase over the next few hours, since analysis usually confirms the preliminary tests carried out at the farms," he told reporters.

Several people with suspicious symptoms were tested for avian flu in Bucharest, the capital, this week, but no cases were found, AFP reported.

In Denmark, an H5 virus was found in poultry on a petting farm, the country's first such report involving domestic birds, AFP said in a separate story today.

Peter Bagge, a veterinary official, said about 100 chickens, ducks, and geese on the farm in Hundsley on Fyn Island were destroyed, according to the story. Bagge said tests were under way to determine if the virus is the deadly strain of H5N1.

Denmark has found several wild birds infected with H5N1 since mid-March, but no H5 or H5N1 infections in domestic birds.

The government set up a 3-kilometer protection zone and a 10-kilometer observation zone around the petting farm, AFP reported. Officials said the country can continue exporting poultry raised outside the observation area to European Union members, but they fear that other countries may ban Danish poultry products.

In Nigeria, a likely new avian flu outbreak has been found on a farm near Kano in the northern part of the country after several weeks with no new outbreaks, according to another AFP report published today.

Shehu Bawa, head of the Kano State committee on avian flu, said signs of an outbreak were found on a farm with 16,000 chickens in Kakara village, 9 miles from Kano, the story said. Bawa said the discovery ends a "24-day lull."

Samples from 11 chickens were sent to a national laboratory for testing, but Bawa said he was convinced the disease was H5N1 because the signs matched those seen in "hundreds of thousands of cases" over the past few months.

Nigeria was first hit by the virus in early January. The disease has been found in poultry in 12 states and around the capital, Abuja, since then, according to AFP. No human cases have been reported.

In other developments, US wildlife scientists yesterday began testing migratory birds in Alaska for H5N1 avian flu, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. The action marked the launch of an effort to detect any H5N1 invasion early by testing 75,000 to 100,000 wild birds this year.

The first tests involved shorebirds at a wildlife refuge near Anchorage, Bruce Woods of the US Fish and Wildlife Service told the AP. He said the agency would test birds at the refuge for only a few days, but plans call for further testing at more than 50 backcountry camps in Alaska.

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