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Swiss buttress defences as bird flu draws closer

Swiss authorities say current measures against bird flu are adequate Keystone

The Swiss authorities say defences in place against bird flu are adequate, after two people died in Turkey and 15 others became infected with the virus.

This content was published on January 10, 2006 - 21:45

The Federal Veterinary Office on Tuesday extended an import ban on poultry products to six of Turkey's neighbours and said checks on flights into Switzerland from Turkey were being strictly enforced.

Western European governments have become increasingly edgy since cases of bird flu in humans started moving westwards across Turkey.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday that the outbreak in that country could be contained "relatively easily".

Officials added that all the evidence pointed to chickens as being the source of the infections, which meant it had not mutated so that it could be transmitted between humans.

The Swiss authorities said they would continue to enforce an import ban imposed on poultry meat, eggs and other products, such as feathers, from affected countries. And border-crossing checks introduced last October would remain in force.

The additional ban on Turkey's neighbours was merely a precautionary measure since Switzerland does not import poultry products from these countries.

Smuggling

Federal Veterinary Office spokesman Marcel Falk believes the biggest threat to Switzerland comes from poultry products being smuggled into the country.

But he rejected reports suggesting that people crossing the border could spread the disease on their clothing. "Bird faeces are infectious for two to three weeks so the virus could in theory be introduced on clothing," he told swissinfo.

"This cannot be excluded completely, but we do not think that it is very probable. We have advised poultry farmers not to let anyone who has been to an affected country near their birds for three weeks."

Falk added that there were no plans to reimpose a ban – introduced temporarily last year - on keeping domestic fowl outdoors.

Restrictions

"That restriction was specifically to protect against birds migrating over Switzerland from Russia and Africa. It has not got much to do with the disease in Turkey," he said.

"We may consider the same measures again in the spring when these birds migrate in the opposite direction, but we will monitor developments in Africa before taking such a decision."

Federal customs chief Daniel Wagner told swissinfo that there have only been 20 cases of people found smuggling banned poultry products into Switzerland at airports since border controls were tightened last year.

"In October we increased checks at Zurich, Geneva and Basel airports, especially for flights direct from Turkey or other countries affected by avian flu. We have checks at road and rail border points, but we have not increased checks further in the past few weeks," he said.

Illegal

"Our checks have revealed more cigarettes and other illegal food products than the things we were looking for."

The Federal Health Office also played down the risk of the disease spreading among humans in Switzerland.

"This is still an infection that passes from bird to human and not human to human," said spokesman Jean-Louis Zurcher.

"Of course developments in Turkey are of some concern as there are fears that it may come to Europe.

"But we have measures in place to stop birds or bird products coming to Switzerland from these countries so we have the risk contained."

swissinfo, Matthew Allen

Key facts

Switzerland imposed a ban on keeping domestic fowl outdoors between October 26 and December 16 last year.
At the same time veterinary experts took samples from 800 migratory birds, but found no trace of bird flu.
The H5N1 strain of the virus has killed 76 people and infected 146 so far, according to World Health Organization figures.

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