Bird flu outbreak confirmed on Netherlands farm

Dutch officials are checking poultry farms for a highly infectious strain of bird flu after an outbreak was confirmed in a central village.

Health authorities in the Netherlands banned the transport of poultry nationwide on Sunday after the discovery in Hekendorp village of a “highly pathogenic” form of avian influenza that is very dangerous to birds and can contaminate humans.

The destruction of about 150,000 chickens at the farm, near Utrecht, should be completed on Monday, said Lex Denden of the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA).

“We’re checking another 16 poultry farms in around a 10-kilometre radius,” he said.

Mr Denden said no cases were detected so far.

Dutch media reported that the birds would be gassed and that two farms in the immediate vicinity of the infected farm had already been given the all clear.

Roadblocks have been set up one kilometre from the village, preventing people not on official business from entering.

The atmosphere in the village was quiet on Monday, with police and black barriers screening off the infected farm.

Renowned virologist and bird flu expert Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam told AFP it was a mystery how the virus had reached the Netherlands.

“We have no idea where it’s coming from,” he said, noting that the flu had “popped up, out of nowhere, in farms without any poultry trade record with Asia.”

Mr Fouchier said that infection likely came through wild waterbirds, such as ducks, geese or swans, that had migrated from Asia and left droppings near the Dutch farm.

“Fortunately, they aren’t many species that do that, so we are working with ornithologists to determine which birds it could be, what population size it has,” he said.

Europe praises bird flu response

The European Commission said the response to an outbreak of avian flu in the Netherlands and Britain was satisfactory amid warnings that the disease could spread further.

“We can only praise the behaviour of the authorities of the two member states,” said Enrico Brivio, a spokesman for the EU’s executive, one day after the discovery of a highly contagious strain of influenza that is very dangerous to birds and can spread to humans.

A duck breeding farm in northern England was closed off on Monday after an outbreak of bird flu, although officials said the risk to public health was “very low”.

An estimated 6,000 ducks on the farm will be culled and a 10-kilometre restriction zone has been put around the site near Driffield in Yorkshire.

“We are reviewing the measures taken by the national authorities, and for the moment, we consider them adequate, both the measures taken by the Dutch authorities and the ones taken by the British authorities,” Mr Brivio said.

The European Commission will make a formal decision on the measures taken and review the situation next Thursday.

Mr Brivio said a bird flu outbreak also occurred two weeks ago in Germany but that “adequate measures” had been taken and the “situation actually is normal” there.

EU sources added the German outbreak occurred on a turkey farm.

Egypt reports second bird flu death

Health officials in Egypt said a woman died of bird flu in the southern province of Assiut, 385 kilometres south of Cairo, the second death from the H5N1 virus in the country this year.

The 22-year-old woman died on Sunday after she was diagnosed with the disease on November 10, said Ahmed Abdel Hamid, a health ministry official in Assiut.

“This is the first case of bird flu infection and death in Assiut,” he said.

He said the woman’s two-year-old daughter was also infected with the virus, but that relatives had “escaped” from hospital with the child.

“We are trying to quarantine all those who came in contact with the infant,” he said.

Health ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghafar said seven people had been infected with the virus in Egypt this year.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 400 people, mainly in south-east Asia, since first appearing in 2003.

Another strain of bird flu, H7N9, has claimed more than 170 lives since emerging in 2013.

AFP