| A Romanian veterinary worker carries domestic birds to be culled on suspicion of bird flu near Bucharest. (Reuters)
Bucharest, Oct. 15 (Reuters): Laboratory tests today showed that the same deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu as that found in Turkey and Asia had infected ducks in Romania, confirming the virus had reached mainland Europe.
A British laboratory testing Romanian samples established that three birds found dead in the Danube delta last week contained the H5N1 strain, which has killed more than 60 people and caused the death of millions of birds in Asia since 2003.
The World Health Organisation’s top influenza expert, echoing previous warnings, said the virus could mutate into a form that could kill thousands or millions of people around the world and urged governments to prepare for such a pandemic.
But encouraging news came from China, where state media said a new, improved vaccine for birds had been developed, a low-cost spray that could protect them from the H5N1 strain of avian flu.
The spread of the virus in Asia has been blamed on backyard farms and open-air markets where humans and birds mingle in often unsanitary conditions, and authorities have been unable to wipe it out despite large-scale culling and vaccination.
In Turkey, a health ministry official said nine people kept under observation in hospital for possible bird flu had been allowed to go home after tests showed they were not infected.
Turkish officials also said the incubation period for the avian flu found on a farm there was over, and the danger to humans had passed.
The EU Commission confirmed that the H5N1 strain found in Romanian ducks was exactly the same as that detected in Turkish birds. “The link has now been confirmed,” health and consumer protection commissioner Markos Kyprianou said in a statement.
Kyprianou said the EU had already banned poultry and live bird imports from Romania, so no further measures were needed. EU veterinary experts will meet on Thursday to review the situation.
Klaus Stoehr, director of the WHO influenza programme, said “the virus has the potential to mutate and thus spark a terrible pandemic”, echoing the fear that H5N1 may change into a form that spreads easily among humans.