Turkey has avian flu; UK, Hungary outbreaks may be linked

Feb 9, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Turkey announced today an H5N1 avian influenza outbreak at a farm in the southeastern part of the country, as English authorities explored the possibility of a connection between recent outbreaks in Suffolk and Hungary.

A report submitted to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) by Turkey's agriculture ministry said the outbreak began Feb 5 and affected poultry in a village in Batman province, about 460 miles from Ankara.

The source of the outbreak was contact with wild birds, the report said. Of the nearly 800 birds that were destroyed, most were backyard chickens, though turkeys, geese, ducks, and pigeons also were included. Turkey's last outbreak of H5N1 in birds was in March 2006.

England sorts out H5N1 evidence
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said in a press release yesterday that preliminary tests indicate that H5N1 viruses from a turkey farm outbreak may be identical to the virus that caused a recent outbreak in Hungary. Bernard Matthews Holdings, Ltd., the poultry producer that owns the affected farm in England, has an operation in Hungary.

The DEFRA report said a company meat processing plant adjacent to the farm handled imported poultry products from Hungary.

"Our investigations have shown that one possible route of infection is poultry product imported from Hungary," DEFRA Deputy Chief Veterinarian Fred Landeg said. "It is important that this is investigated thoroughly, along with all other possible routes."

Bernard Matthews has voluntarily agreed to suspend poultry movement between its English and Hungarian operations until the investigation is complete, Landeg said.

DEFRA said it believed the imported Hungarian poultry came from outbreak-free parts of the country. (In late January geese at a farm in southwestern Hungary tested positive for H5N1, marking the virus's first appearance in Europe this year.) However, the agency said new laboratory information revealed yesterday that the transmission of the virus was from poultry to poultry. "This makes transmission direct from Hungary more likely, rather than a pathway via wild birds," DEFRA stated.

As part of outbreak investigation, samples were taken from the remaining 21 poultry sheds on the Suffolk farm, DEFRA said. Initial tests indicated that birds in three of the sheds were infected with avian flu, though none showed clinical signs before they were culled.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced today that it is exploring whether any H5N1-infected meat entered the food chain. "Our advice, that avian flu does not pose a food safety risk, remains unchanged. However, it is illegal for infected meat to be in our food, and so the agency would take any appropriate action if it were found there," FSA said in a press release.

No human H5N1 cases have been reported in connection with the outbreak. The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) said in a press release yesterday that three workers who were involved in the outbreak had flu-like symptoms and were tested for H5N1 avian flu. All samples were negative, and the patients are undergoing routine treatment for their illnesses or have been discharged from the hospital, the HPA said.

FAO warns about risk to cats
In other avian flu news, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a statement yesterday advising cat owners who live in areas where the H5N1 virus has been found in poultry or wild birds to keep their cats away from infected birds and warning that cats living on commercial poultry farms should be kept indoors.

The FAO advisory cited unconfirmed reports that H5N1 has been detected in feral cats that roam near poultry markets in Java and Sumatra where recent H5N1 avian outbreaks have occurred. Cats can become infected by feeding on sick domestic or wild birds, and they can shed the virus from their respiratory and digestive tracts.

"This raises some concern, not only because cats could act as intermediary hosts in the spread of the H5N1 virus between species but also because growth in cats might help the H5N1 virus to adapt into a more highly infectious strain that could spark an influenza pandemic," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller.

Peter Roeder, FAO animal health officer, said findings from Indonesia in January suggest that 80% of cats in outbreak areas are not infected. "This is rather encouraging because it indicates that cats are unlikely to constitute a reservoir of virus infection," he said. "Cats are more likely to be a dead-end host for the H5N1 virus."

In a related development, the US Embassy in Jakarta issued a letter Feb 7 to Americans traveling or living in Indonesia urging them to keep abreast of local news reports about avian flu outbreaks and advising them to avoid contact with wild or stray cats. The letter also urged Americans to keep their cats away from sick or dying poultry and out of areas where H5N1 outbreaks have occurred. Domestic cats that primarily live inside residences should not be at risk for catching H5N1, the letter said.

Canadian survey finds no dangerous viruses
Canada found no highly pathogenic strains of avian flu in in its second annual wild bird survey, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced today. More than 12,000 birds were tested.

Samples were collected from live and dead migratory and resident birds. Additional sampling was done in Iceland, a mingling point for birds from North America and Europe, the CFIA said.

Like the 2005 survey, the 2006 investigation found various H5 and H7 avian flu viruses, which can affect domestic poultry. "Finding avian influenza viruses in wild birds is not unexpected. Influenza viruses commonly circulate in wild birds with little or no impact on the health of the birds or other species," the CFIA said.

In August 2006, the US Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior expanded a wild bird surveillance program beyond Alaska to the lower 48 states, Hawaii, and other Pacific islands. So far birds in six instances have tested positive for the low-pathogenic North American H5N1 avian flu virus, a mild strain that has been found several times before.

As of today, the US Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Early Detection Data System (HEDDS) has tested 74,140 samples. The 2006 sampling season runs from April 2006 through March 2007.

See also:

OIE reports on 2007 Turkish outbreak

US HEDDS surveillance data

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