Bird flu reaches Slovakia; human tests so far negative in India

Feb 23, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – H5N1 virus has been found in wild birds in yet another European country, Slovakia, while tests of samples from 95 people in India have revealed no cases of avian influenza so far, according to reports today.

India's health services director, R.K. Srivastava, announced that all but one of 95 samples from residents of the Navapur area had tested negative, and the remaining sample was being tested further, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. Navapur is the site of India's first avian flu outbreak, in poultry.

India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has told the World Health Organization (WHO) that no human cases have been found so far, the WHO said today.

However, "it was not clear if samples from a 27-year-old poultry worker from Gujarat state, said to have died of respiratory disease on 17 February, were among those tested," the WHO said.

Indian officials quoted in news reports yesterday had spoken of "a distinct possibility" that human cases would be confirmed.

Meanwhile, Indonesia has reported anther probable human case. Local tests of a 27-year-old woman from East Jakarta were positive for avian flu, said Hariadi Wibisono of the health minstiry, as quoted in a Reuters report yesterday. He said she died Feb 20 at Sulianti Saroso Hospital in Jakarta.

Hospital spokesman Ilham Patu said the woman had had contact with sick chickens in her neighborhood, Reuters reported. If her case is confirmed by further tests, it will be Indonesia's 27th case and 20th fatality.

In Slovakia, authorities said the H5N1 virus has been found in a duck and a falcon that were found dead Feb 20 at Bratislava and Gabcikovo, according to an AFP report today. Slovakia is bordered on the south by Hungary, which confirmed the virus in wild birds earlier this week.

Slovak Agriculture Minister Zsolt Simon said the Slovak Veterinary Office detected the virus and that samples have been sent to the European Union's (EU's) avian flu reference laboratory in Weybridge, England, for confirmation, according to AFP.

Slovakia set up protection surveillance zones around the sites where the birds were found, in accord with EU requirements, the story said.

Other EU members that have reported the virus in birds this month are Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary.

In France today, the agriculture ministry reported that an H5N1 outbreak is suspected on a turkey farm near where two infected wild birds were found earlier, according to another AFP story. If confirmed, it will be the first H5N1 outbreak on a European farm.

The virus was detected in two chickens in Austria yesterday, but the birds were in an animal shelter, according to news agencies.

The suspected French outbreak was on a farm with 11,000 turkeys in the Ain department in eastern France, authorities said. They said that high mortality among the turkeys was noticed this morning, and all the birds were to be slaughtered this afternoon, AFP reported.

Samples from the turkeys have been sent to a government lab in Brittany, and results are expected tomorrow, the ministry said.

Yesterday the European Commission approved limited poultry vaccination in France and the Netherlands. For example, vaccination was approved for free-range laying hens in the Netherlands as an alternative to bringing the birds indoors, according to Eurosurveillance Weekly.

Also yesterday, Russia announced plans to vaccinate all barnyard fowl located along bird migration routes, according to AFP. Plans call for immunizing the poultry before the spring migration.

While avian flu spreads across Europe, it continues to generate concern in Africa as well. Yesterday the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), worried that the poultry outbreaks in Nigeria could lead to a "regional disaster," said it was advising the Nigerian government to plan a vaccination drive.

"The movement and trade of poultry have strongly contributed to the further spread of the virus," said Joseph Domenech, FAO chief veterinary officer. "The government has taken the right measures such as culling in outbreak areas and biosecurity controls, but the authorities are facing immense difficulties to enforce controls.

"Considering the possible widespread entrenchment of the disease in poultry, FAO is advising the government to prepare for a targeted vaccination campaign. Culling and the application of biosecurity measures alone may not stop the spread of the virus."

A vaccination campaign will require "several thousand" veterinarians and support from international donors, the FAO said. Nigeria has about 140 million poultry, with 60% of them in backyard flocks, the statement said.

Yesterday the WHO said Nigerian officials had confirmed H5N1 outbreaks on commercial poultry farms in four states, Kano, Plateau, Katsina, and Bauchi, and in the Abuja area. Possible outbreaks in other states were under investigation.

The first outbreak in Kaduna state began on Jan 10, "raising the possibility that earlier human exposures and cases may have occurred in that area and elsewhere," the WHO said. The agency said four suspected human cases of avian flu, including one fatal case, were being investigated.

The statement said little was known about the possible presence of the virus in small backyard flocks, which poses the greatest risk of human infection.

See also:

Feb 23 WHO statement on situation in India

Feb 22 WHO statement on Nigerian situation

Feb 22 FAO statement on control efforts in Nigeria

Eurosurveillance Weekly report on avian flu in wild birds and vaccination plans

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