Romania culls birds, says flu could be weaker strain

  • World
  • Sunday, 09 Oct 2005

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania culled hundreds of birds and quarantined villages on Sunday to try to halt the spread of bird flu after it was detected in poultry in its Danube delta. 

Romanian authorities also banned hunting across the delta, which is home to 14,000 people, sent medical teams to test for possible human cases and vaccinated around half of the delta's population with a regular anti-flu vaccine. 

Romania culled hundreds of birds and quarantined villages on Sunday to try to halt the spread of bird flu after it was detected in poultry in its Danube delta. A child is vaccinated in Ceamurlia de Jos, 300km east of Bucharest October 8, 2005 as the village is quarantined after cases of bird flu disease were reported there. (REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel)

However, Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu said there had been no cases of flu among the delta's people: "We did not register any cases of (human) flu nor avian in the population." 

And Agriculture Minister Gheorghe Flutur told state radio local scientists had so far been unable to isolate the virus in the suspect birds, indicating it was less likely to be a virulent strain, but tests would continue for several days. 

If the Romanian cases did turn out to be the deadly H5N1 virus, they would be the first evidence the strain has spread to Europe from Asia, where it has killed 65 people and millions of birds since 2003. 

Russia and Kazakhstan have already had outbreaks. 

The Danube delta, on the Black Sea, contains Europe's largest wetlands and is a major migratory area for wild birds coming from Russia, Scandinavia, Poland and Germany. The birds mainly move to warmer areas in North Africa including the Nile delta for winter. 

Experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into one which spreads easily among humans, creating a pandemic that might kill millions. The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 killed between 20 and 40 million people worldwide. 

Quarantines were imposed on seven affected Romanian villages, which had suspicious bird deaths in recent days and a campaign of culling poultry continued at full speed. 

"We have so far culled more than 1,000 poultry in the delta and we continue to do so in suspicious areas," Chirica Lefter, who is the government's representative there told Reuters. 

Sunday is the third day of testing of Romania's suspect birds. Testing could last up to a week, experts say. 

"We found the anti-body of avian flu so far which proves that we are dealing with bird flu," Flutur said. 

"So far, we have been unable to isolate the virus, which means that the longer the process takes, the less chance there is of it being a powerful virus." 

However, Flutur also said the scientists found that the three birds which tested positive for bird flu on Saturday in the village of Smardan in fact did not die from it: "We reviewed the tests and it (bird flu) was not confirmed in them." 

Friday's cases were detected in another delta village. 

Turkey also reported cases of avian flu on Saturday and the European Commission said on Sunday it was following developments there and in Romania. 

(Additional reporting by Martin Dokoupil and Marius Zaharia) 

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