Bird flu moving faster than anticipated; contingency plans for dead birds among migrating flocks
Avian flu has spread in Europe more quickly than Finnish authorities had anticipated, admits Prof. Liisa Sihvonen, who heads the virology unit of EELA, the National Veterinary and Food Research Institute of Finland.
It was previously believed that the disease would not reach these latitudes until later in the spring. Sihvonen took part earlier this week in a meeting of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris, where the consensus view was that the cold winter in Eastern Europe had got birds on the move.
The most recent news with significance for Finland was the discovery near Oskarshamn in Sweden of an unusually large number of dead birds, measured in the dozens.
Oskarshamn is on Sweden's east coast, facing the island of Gotland. Tests on the birds should determine by week's end whether they have succumbed to the feared H5N1 virus.
Regardless of whether the Swedish cases prove positive, the advent of avian flu in Finland seems to be only a matter of time, as the flocks of migrating birds will begin to arrive here within a couple of weeks.
Contingency plans have been drawn up for what to do in the case of finding dead birds.
On the national level, it has been stated that protective buffer zones would be set up around poultry farms in the vicinity of any discovery, in order that chickens, turkeys, and other domestic fowl would not be infected by the wild birds. Measures differ between locations: the same level of readiness is not required in Helsinki, for instance, as in communities with large poultry farms.
In the case of a dead bird or birds being found, a vet would be called, and rescue personnel would help if needed in removing the birds. Police will cordon off the immediate area and place warning signs.
There would be a protective zone of three kilometres in diameter around the site, within which vets would examine all poultry on farms. If diseased animals are discovered, they will be destroyed. The transport of poultry within this zone will be restricted, and hygiene precautions will be stepped up: cars and footwear will be sprayed with disinfectant.
In a larger area of five kilometres from the site, there will also be limitations on the movement of poultry. Dead birds would be incinerated, or in the event of massive numbers, they could also be buried at landfill dumps.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has issued an order requiring farmers to keep all poultry livestock inside in 300 designated risk communities. These are locations where large numbers of water-birds gather during the spring migration, or where poultry farming is a major source of livelihood.
The regulations come into force on Friday.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Over 500 calls to bird flu hotline (22.2.2006)
OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health)