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Bird flu reaches fringes of Europe

The deadly strain of the bird flu virus has reached Turkey

(Keystone)

The Swiss authorities say there is no need to take additional precautions following the confirmation of deadly bird-flu cases in Turkey.

A ban on poultry imports from Turkey and Romania, where there has been an outbreak of disease among birds, has meanwhile been extended.

The Federal Veterinary Office on Thursday reiterated that the necessary precautions were in place to prevent the spread of bird flu in Switzerland.

There is no major risk of migratory birds from Turkey carrying the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus to Switzerland, according to the Veterinary Office's Marcel Falk.

He added that for the moment there was no need to impose restrictions on free-range poultry farms in Switzerland.

But the authorities said a ban on poultry imports from Turkey and Romania - introduced on Monday - would be extended indefinitely.

Other precautions include recommendations for poultry farmers, increased border checks and a monitoring programme for wild birds.

Switzerland's leading poultry farming association said it saw no cause for alarm.

Vaccination campaign

Also on Thursday, the Federal Health Office launched its regular flu vaccination campaign for people over the age of 65, children and medical personnel.

But the authorities warned that the vaccination provided no automatic protection against bird flu.

The European Union health and consumer protection commissioner, Markos Kyprianou, confirmed that a strain of bird flu found in Turkey had been identified as the same H5N1 virus that has killed at least 65 people in Asia since 2003 and prompted the slaughter of millions of birds.

He advised seasonal flu vaccination for people considered to be at risk and urged governments to stockpile anti-viral drugs.

The Turkish health ministry said the country faced no general public health threat following last week's outbreak of avian influenza on a farm near the Aegean Sea.

The government in Ankara said that all necessary measures against a possible flu epidemic were in place.

A Turkish official added that the government had asked the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche, for one million boxes of standard flu medicine.

The EU said that the bird flu found in Romania was the same virulent strain, but further tests were needed to confirm the reports.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Appearing in South Korea in 2003 after a first alert in Hong Kong in 1997, avian flu has been detected in birds in Turkey and possibly Romania. It has also spread to 12 Asian countries, Kazakhstan and Russia.
Since the end of 2003, bird flu has caused at least 60 deaths in Asia, mostly people who have come into contact with birds.
The World Health Organization in Geneva estimates that a pandemic could cause 2-7.4 million deaths.
15 subtypes of influenza virus are known to affect birds. To date all outbreaks of the highly pathogenic form have been caused by influenza A viruses of subtypes H5 and H7.

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