Mobile units on standby for bird-flu alert

Thousands of birds have been gassed in Romania, which was the first European country to detect the deadly H5N1 virus Keystone

With successive European countries falling prey to bird flu, Switzerland is preparing to deal with an outbreak of the killer virus.

This content was published on November 25, 2005 - 07:53

Two mobile extermination units are on hand to tackle an outbreak if and when it occurs.

Romania was the first European country to detect the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease in poultry last month. Since then the disease has migrated westwards to Croatia.

Earlier this week the Swiss unveiled their strategy for dealing with infected birds - should avian flu cross into the country.

Swiss television broadcast footage of the two sealed containers in which infected birds will be gassed before being safely disposed of.

According to Marcel Falk, spokesman for the Federal Veterinary Office, a national crisis centre will swing into action within half a day. The operations centre will be staffed by up to ten people evaluating data and deciding on a strategy.

The units were purchased by the cantons at a total cost of SFr120,000 ($91,000).

In the event of an outbreak of bird flu, or another highly contagious disease, they will be transported by truck to the site of infection.

Since bird flu made an appearance in eastern Europe, keepers of domestic fowl in Switzerland have been forced to keep their birds in sheds. But even this drastic measure offers no protection against the spread of the virus.

Red alert

Under the emergency plan, all the animals on a farm contaminated by the avian flu virus will have to be slaughtered.

But at least the Swiss will be spared the brutal images seen in places like South Korea. In Asia the animals are often put into bags and disposed of alive.

In Switzerland the mass slaughter of birds will be overseen by the chief veterinary officer in the canton where the virus is detected.

In the event of an outbreak, the extermination unit will be transported to the affected farm in a red container. The colour red stands for epidemic combat.

Bird disposal experts will don protective dress and masks before carrying out the procedure.

Carbon dioxide is fed into the disposal unit through a tube. When it is full, the animals are dropped through hatches into the unit, explains canton Bern's chief vet, Christian Huggeler.

"The gas anaesthetises them before it halts their breathing. In other words, the animals will die without noticing it," says Huggeler.

Another truck will take the dead birds to a reprocessing centre, where their remains will be ground up and used in cement production.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The cantonal authorities have bought two bird extermination units for SFr120,000 to be used in the event of an outbreak of bird flu or another highly contagious disease.

The units will be ready for deployment within half a day of an outbreak being reported.

The birds will be gassed and the carcasses used in cement production.

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