H5N1 bird flu strain hits Czech poultry

Poultry farm in Tisova, photo: CTK

Czech veterinary officials have confirmed the country's first outbreak of bird flu among poultry, after the disease was uncovered at a turkey farm in eastern Bohemia. Until now bird flu had been found only in a number of cases in wild birds in southern parts of the country. Authorities, who ordered a safety perimeter instated around the farm in eastern Bohemia, confirmed on Thursday following tests that the flu strain is indeed the deadly H5N1.

Poultry farm in Tisova,  photo: CTK
The first time the bird flu pathogen was found in the Czech Republic was a little over a year ago - March 2006, the specimen was a dead swan near the town of Hluboka nad Vltavou. An additional thirteen cases in wildfowl followed, with authorities confirming incidences of H5N1 - the strain of bird flu which can be deadly to humans. Incidence of the bird flu then died out but now it is back, this time - for the first time - hitting a Czech farm.

What's worse, tests confirmed on Thursday, the bird flu strain is H5N1 - a strain which can cause illness and death in human beings.

Poultry farm in Tisova,  photo: CTK
The site in question is a facility in the village of Tisova, in the Pardubice region of eastern Bohemia. By Wednesday 1,800 birds from 6,000 specimens at the producer's had died. All remaining birds at the farm will be culled, if they haven't been already. Even before the test results, authorities had begun enforcing a 3-kilometre protective perimeter and an outer 10-kilometre surveillance zone, to seal the farm off. Other measures being put into place include the state police monitoring roads to the facility while the army will help with clean-up operations and fumigate the farm.

Additional steps now taken will include registering all flocks - from home-owned poultry to large producers - within the ten kilometre radius: earlier Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovic said that all flocks kept within a ten kilometre zone would be destroyed if any other cases of bird flu were found.

Poultry farm in Tisova,  photo: CTK
Although the developments are far from pleasant, Zdenek Semerad of the State Veterinary Office on Wednesday said the public was not in danger, stressing that none of the infected poultry at the farm at Tisova had ever been processed for consumption:

"The turkeys in this flock were no older than 12 weeks; that means no products were ever processed from any of these animals. That means there is no danger from any of the animals that were sick."

Authorities consider the risk of catching the bird flu fairly low, even if there has not been a case like this in the Czech Republic before. They point to the fact that the birds at the farm in Tisova were completely kept apart. Outside of Europe humans have contracted the H5N1 bird flu, but authorities point out such cases involved living in close proximity to infected birds. Cooking meat for even a short period kills the H5N1 virus, and as far as small breeders are concerned, their poultry shouldn't be at risk if kept away from contact with wildfowl. As of Thursday, breeders in the area of Tisova will no longer be allowed to let their birds move freely in the yard. A ban on the transport of specimens including eggs is also being enforced, with owners being required to notify authorities regarding any suspicious deaths of their birds.