Bird flu questions remain

As Brussels yesterday called on European Union countries to better prepare for the «real possibility» of a flu pandemic, confusion surrounded the whereabouts of the sample taken from a Greek turkey which died from bird flu on Monday. The bird died at a turkey farm on the eastern Aegean island of Oinouses, near Chios, but authorities could not confirm yesterday what had happened to the original sample taken from it. Sources at the Agricultural Development Ministry suggested that the sample ran out and a second one had to be taken from the particular turkey. EU officials were visibly annoyed by the delay. An inspection team from Brussels was on its way to Greece yesterday to assess the situation in Oinouses. A sample was sent yesterday to a testing center in England, which will be able to determine whether the Oinouses turkey had contracted the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus that has killed more than 60 people in Southeast Asia since 2003. The results are expected to be announced next week. There were no other positive tests for bird flu from the other dead turkeys on Oinouses. EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou warned member states to plan more for an outbreak and said the EU would coordinate a major pandemic simulation exercise by the end of the year to test health authorities. In a bid to reassure the inhabitants of the tiny island and the wider Greek public, Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis visited Oinouses yesterday, carrying 20 flu shots for those most at risk of contracting the disease. After meeting with local doctors, Kaklamanis then tucked into a lunch of chicken and ouzo, hoping to make it clear that it was safe to eat the meat despite much of the public’s fears. Meanwhile, local authorities in Ioannina – Greece’s biggest poultry-farming region – told Kathimerini they are planning a campaign to convince people that eating eggs and chicken is safe. The poultry industry is worth some 300 million euros a year to the region and Prefect Alekos Kahrimanis said he and fellow local officials would be feasting on chicken today to show that consuming the meat would not cause health problems.