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Europe grapples with bird flu issue
Updated: 2005-10-15 11:26

Officials in the Balkans sought to soothe fears by showing they weren't afraid of fowl.

Romanian President Traian Basescu urged his people to continue eating chicken Friday, saying his wife is cooking it at home. In Hungary, where the Poultry Product Board reported the sale of chicken immediately fell 10-15 percent when the outbreak started, Agriculture Minister Jozsef Graf ate a roasted leg of chicken Friday at a downtown food market.

The risk of contracting bird flu from handling raw packaged chicken bought in supermarkets is considered negligible, said Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health, adding that no such cases have ever been recorded.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, mad cow disease severely hurt the beef industry in several European countries. Exports from affected countries were banned and thousands of cattle were destroyed to stop the spread.

The World Health Organization moved Friday to calm fears about bird flu by stressing the risk of people getting infected is very low.

Since the outbreak began in Asia two years ago, 117 people have become infected and they were mostly poultry farmers and others involved in plucking and preparing sick birds, handling cockfights or playing with ducks and drinking duck blood.

However, concerns over infection ran high in Greece, where citizens were reported to be crowding pharmacies to buy the antiviral Tamiflu drug, as well as flu vaccines — which experts say are useless against bird flu.

The rush prompted the health ministry to issue a public appeal against panic-induced shopping for vaccines.

Deputy Health Minister Thanassis Yiannopoulos told private Alter television on Friday: "We must not all rush to the pharmacy to buy vaccines, because the people who really need them will not have any."

Seasonal flu vaccines are considered important for the elderly, young children and people with heart disease and chronic respiratory diseases. However, stamping out the outbreaks in poultry swiftly is important for human health because the further the virus is allowed to spread, the more opportunities it has to mutate into a form that passes easily to and between people, sparking a human flu pandemic.

Authorities were combing areas along the path of migratory birds for dead birds, and rushing any samples to laboratories for testing, Agriculture Ministry official Beytullah Okay said.

Experts believe the disease came from wild birds migrating through Turkey from the Ural Mountains in Russia to Africa.

Turkish officials carried out medical tests on nine people living in a neighborhood where 40 pigeons reportedly died, but released the nine from medical observation Friday after determining they did not likely have bird flu.

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