Bird flu spreading faster, says WHO

By staff reporter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags World health organisation European union

The deadly bird fu strain H5N1 has spread to 17 new countries in
February alone, says the World Health Organisation, re-iterating to
consumers that poultry is still safe to eat.

New figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show the virus has spread to birds in countries previously unaffected in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East this month.

The new cases show how the disease is capable of spreading rapidly along migratory lines. Yet, the WHO re-iterated that consumers could not be affected through food as long as "poultry products are safely handled and properly cooked"​.

The message echoes that given by France's agriculture ministry last week after tests confirmed that the disease had arrived at one the country's domestic turkey farms.

Poultry consumption in France has fallen by around 30 per cent, while Japan and Hong Kong have already banned the import of French poultry.

The outbreak is particularly threatening for France as the European Union's largest poultry producer. The country's poultry export market is worth €983m per year.

French authorities began vaccinating around 900,000 free-range ducks and geese in the high-risk departments of Landes, Loire-Atlantique and Vendée this Monday, after winning a fiery debate to do so at the European Commission last week.

Others, however, have continued to question whether vaccination was the right thing to do at this time.

UK environment secretary Margaret Beckett yesterday refused to rule out vaccinating birds in Britain, though said there were still question marks over how effective it would be in preventing the disease.

Birds must be vaccinated for a second time, three weeks after their first dose, for the drugs to work.

Vaccinations in France have been followed up with strict controls on movement. Vaccinated birds can only be moved to other vaccinated holdings, to holdings where there is complete separation of vaccinated and non-vaccinated birds, or to a slaughterhouse for immediate slaughter.

European Commission proposals published last December state that vaccinated live poultry, their hatching eggs and day-old chicks should not be exported or moved to another member state or third country.

Fresh meat and meat products from the vaccinated poultry can be marketed in the EU and dispatched to third countries, provided it comes from approved holdings. The flock from which the meat originates must have been inspected by a vet 48 hours prior to slaughter.

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