Risks from migratory birds and the dangers of cross-border infection

THESSALONIKI – Providing people with information is the best defense against the bird flu threatening from neighboring Turkey. The most effective protection includes ensuring that those who have household chicken coops use preventative measures and encouraging honesty from those traveling from Turkey. «It is a matter of national importance that everyone realizes the extent of the problem in what is a critical time for Greece, which is the disease’s gateway into the rest of Europe,» said Spyros K. Kyriakis, head of the Agricultural Development Ministry’s Bird Flu Monitoring Committee and a researcher at the academy’s medical and biological research institute. In the face of the deadly strain of the H5N1 virus, Kyriakis said, the European Union is considering the vaccination of breeding birds and those used for egg production. The Netherlands has shown itself to be especially in favor of this approach, and the advisory committee on bird flu in Greece is in favor of buying some vaccine batches. Asked whether the disease was likely to spread into Greece, Kyriakis offered the following observation. «We have at least clarified that birds are the key animals spreading the disease and which could be responsible for a new pandemic,» he said. «The risk is from migratory birds or from carelessness on the part of a visitor from Turkey, where the veterinary services have always been less than adequate. In the past Greece has paid for the poor standards of fighting infectious diseases, such as foot-and-mouth, in Turkey.» Kyriakis added that all strains of flu that have caused pandemics among humans and all those to come are found among migratory birds. Until now, these birds have been «healthy» carriers of the flu virus. But now wild geese and ducks have died of the disease, though farm ducks have been «healthy» carriers. «That is positive because it means the infection is not likely to spread over large areas,» he said. «I think it is highly likely, however, that the world will see a new pandemic in the next few years.» The end of the migratory season, which falls around the end of January, will reduce the risk of infection to birds in Greece. «However, carelessness on the part of a visitor could prove fatal,» Kyriakis said. «People with chicken coops should keep them in an enclosed area so that they do not come into contact with migratory birds and should stop selling live birds at the market.»

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