Bird Flu now confirmed in Greece

Greece has become the first country in the European Union to confirm its first case of bird flu, although cases are being tackled in Turkey and Romania.

Evangelos Basiakos, the Greek agriculture minister, reported the case on a turkey farm on the Aegean Sea island of Oinouses, near the coast of Turkey.

The European commission is about to ban the movement of live birds and poultry meat from the region, which also includes the nearby resort island of Chios.

At the same time authorities in Romania were yesterday monitoring poultry in six more villages in the Danube delta, after it was feared that quarantine restrictions on villages already suspected of harbouring the disease may have come too late.

Romania has ordered the culling of 17,000 chickens in Ceamurlia de Jos, the worst-affected village, but regional veterinary experts reported yesterday that a teacher had moved to a neighbouring hamlet, taking her hens with her, two weeks before they quarantined the area.

The hens have now been slaughtered and serum sent for testing.

Marian Avram, the head of the veterinary directorate in Tulcea, says if the tests come back positive, they may have a problem.

Bulgaria and Croatia are also testing birds, although as yet there is no evidence of infection.

These developments came just as Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, told the Commons there was "no direct threat" to people in Britain.

Hewitt says the disease is a bird disease, and there is no reason for people to stop eating poultry.

Hewit insists the government was ensuring that the country was as fully prepared as possible for any pandemic flu outbreak in humans.

Plans in the UK have been based mainly on an estimate that about 50,000 people might die in such a global pandemic, four times Britain's 12,000 flu-related deaths each winter.

But the government admits deaths might reach 700,000.

U.S. health secretary, Mike Leavitt, though is warning that, in his view, no nation is adequately prepared for a pandemic avian flu.

Apparently British scientists will travel to Asia this week to consult with experts in Vietnam, China and Hong Kong about the impact there of avian flu and ascertain whether surveillance of flu in birds and humans can be improved.

This trip, by experts from the Medical Research Council (MRC), is sensitive, as China was suspected of covering up the extent of the SARS crisis and there have been no reported human deaths from avian flu there, while as many as 60 deaths have been reported elsewhere in south-east Asia.

To date only 120 cases of bird flu in humans have been confirmed since 2003, which suggests that half of those who caught it from close proximity to birds have died. However it is unclear whether other people have caught it without displaying serious symptoms.

Fortunately the virus has not changed in a way that makes it easily transferable between people.

According to Sir John Skehel , director of the MRC's National Institute of Medical Research, precise information as to whether people had caught the flu from birds, how the Chinese are responding to such a widespread infection of their chickens, the monitoring of the bird population, and the infected human potential, is not at present available.

However the MRC's chief executive, Colin Blakemore, says though there are "understandable sensitivities in China" it would be false to suggest it was the source of all the problems.

Dr Alan Hay, director of the council's World Influenza Centre, says influenza has always been regarded as a global disease and requires a global effort to combat it.

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