Czech Republic may have first case of deadly bird flu

The Czech Republic has detected its first case of bird flu in a swan. Veterinary tests showed the presence of the H5 virus although it will not be clear until Wednesday whether it was the deadly H5N1 variety, which is dangerous to human beings.

Daniela Lazarova has been following the story and joins me now in the studio. So Daniela, what do we know at this point?

Well Chris, so far the Czech Republic has tested close to 300 birds for the deadly virus and it looks like this one may be it. At an emergency press-briefing on Monday morning the agriculture minister Jan Mladek said that although so far vets had confirmed only the H5 virus in the swan, it would most likely turn out to be the deadly H5N1 variety. This virus has already been detected in all neighbouring states and, as the minister said, it was only a question of time until it was detected here. The authorities are clearly taking this case very seriously. Having said that, we will not have final confirmation of this until Wednesday.

So where was the bird found - and what measures are being taken in the meantime?

Milan Malena,  photo: CTK
The swan was found in the Vltava river near Hluboka nad Vltavou, in the southern part of the country. It's a very vulnerable area because of its dense network of lakes and ponds. So far the authorities have just found this one bird, but of course there may be others and the area is now under close scrutiny. The authorities have drawn a ring around a ten-km wide high risk zone where special measures are now in effect. The head of the State Veterinary Office Milan Malena explains what they are:

"We have introduced an immediate ban on the transport of live birds, poultry, eggs and bird feed. All cars leaving the area are being disinfected and wild birds and poultry are under close scrutiny. Outdoor breeding has been banned and it is expected that further measures will follow if the current tests confirm the H5N1 virus. We are cooperating with ornithologists, hunters and the local authorities who will guarantee that all the respective measures are strictly abided by. In the worst case scenario we will have special containers for dead birds where they can be assembled, taken for tests and then eliminated."

Agriculture minister Jan Mladek,  photo: CTK
Milan Malena head of the State Veterinary Office there, enumerating some of the measures that are being introduced. As I said it is not clear yet whether we are dealing with the H5N1 virus but I think that the wheels have been set in motion in anticipation of such a result.

Was there any message to the public at this briefing?

Well, as you might expect, the agriculture minister Mr. Mladek made a point of stressing several times over that things were under control, he said the authorities were ready to deal with this and that there was no reason to panic. He even said that there was no reason to stop eating poultry. But I think that especially people living in the vicinity of the high risk zone may think otherwise.