Monday, October 10, 2005

Romanian and Turkish update

Still no definitive confirmation that the virus that seems to have killed birds in Romania and Turkey is the Highly Pathogenic subtype H5N1 that has also been responsible for more than 100 human cases and 60 plus deaths since 2003. However both the Turkish government and the EU are acting as if it is the real thing. Both countries have apparently made the obligatory notifications to the World Organization on Animal Health (OIE) under Article of OIE's Terrestrial Animal Health Code. Notification is required if the virus is of subtype H5 (or H7), but this could also include Low Pathogenic viruses such as H5N2.

Agence France Presse reports that Turkish Justice Minister and government spokesman Cemil Cicek has said that at this point the disease is limited to a 3 kilometer quarantined area around an affected farm in the northwest of the country, where nearly 2,000 turkeys died from the disease last week (CNN Turk via Deutsche Welle) The European Union (EU) has banned all imports of live birds and feathers from Turkey (Reuters).

The picture in Romania remains confused. Romanian authorities have given contradictory signals as to the identity and confirmation process for a spate of bird deaths.
Private television station Realitatea TV reported dozens of birds, including swans and poultry, had been found dead in the village of Maliuc in the delta on Monday.

Quarantine orders were imposed on seven affected Romanian villages, hunting was banned in the delta and the agriculture minister said the country would cull about 45,000 birds.

He said scientists there had ruled out avian flu in some of the stricken birds found and were trying to isolate the virus in others to discover the strain with which they were infected.

All Balkan countries -- Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Serbia's Kosovo province -- announced a ban on imports of poultry from Turkey and Romania, as did Ukraine and Switzerland.


Romania's Danube delta contains Europe's largest wetlands and is a major migratory area for wild birds coming from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany.

Romanian ornithologists said they expected hundreds of thousands of migratory birds to arrive in the next two months. (Reuters)
Earlier the government had said that samples of the virus were being sent to the closest WHO Reference Laboratory in the UK, but UK scientists said they were sending a team to Romania and would perhaps bring back samples. Here is a helpful summary of the situation from ProMed:
On Friday [7 Oct 2005] the country reported its 1st case of the disease in the village Ceamurlia de Jos, in south Tulcea (Danube delta, eastern Romania). Reportedly, 3 ducks were affected in the yard of a peasant family. However, on Sat 8 Oct 2005, Romanian officials told AP that dead birds were 1st noted in late September 2005; that samples were sent to a laboratory in Bucharest, where scientists found antibodies to bird flu, but -- unable to find out the exact strain of the virus -- they allegedly sent samples to Britain for testing at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Weybridge, Surrey, from where the results "are expected in the next few days."

According to the current newswire, this information, however, seems to be denied now by the British lab.

On Sat 8 Oct 2005, Ion Agafitei, the chief veterinarian, was cited telling reporters that 3 (unspecified, additional?) birds had tested positive for the virus in a 2nd village: Smardan, in north west Tulcea region. Quarantines had been imposed in the 2 villages and 5 others where suspicious bird deaths had occurred in recent days. Additional information referred to tests on several swans which had been found dead nearby, "to be finalized in a couple of days".
In summary, no confirmation but many worried officials. It has been long expected H5N1 would make its way to Europe (and the Middle East), although there was no shortage of wishful thinking it wouldn't happen this year.

Thinking is good. Wishful thinking not so good.