March 20, 2006

Israel kills off poultry in bird flu battle

By Megan Goldin

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel poisoned hundreds of thousands
of turkeys and chickens as it sought on Monday to contain an
outbreak of the dangerous H5N1 strain of bird flu which has
been spreading at an alarming rate.

U.S. researchers studying human cases said the virus in
people had evolved into two separate strains, complicating
efforts to develop a vaccine and prevent a pandemic.

The virus has rippled out from Asia to the Middle East,
Europe and Africa in recent months, with migratory birds seen
as the main culprits in spreading bird flu.

A Bush administration official said on Monday that it was
"increasingly likely" that bird flu would be detected in the
United States as early as this year.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton, responsible for land and
natural resource management, said an early detection plan would
prioritize sampling in Alaska and the Pacific islands.

She and other administration officials who oversee U.S.
agriculture and human health services unveiled a plan to
increase monitoring of migratory birds experts believe could
carry the virus to U.S. shores.

Bird flu can infect people who come into close contact with
infected poultry and has killed nearly 100 people since late

Experts fear the virus will mutate into a form that passes
easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which
millions could die and which could cripple the global economy.

U.S. researchers said they had identified important changes
to the virus in people.

One strain, or clade, made people sick in Vietnam, Cambodia
and Thailand in 2003 and 2004 and a second, a cousin of the
first, caused the disease in people in Indonesia in 2004.


"Back in 2003 we only had one genetically distinct
population of H5N1 with the potential to cause a human
pandemic. Now we have two," said Rebecca Garten of the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who helped conduct
the study.

Israel's neighbor Egypt said Saturday that a 30-year-old
woman had died of bird flu, the country's first reported death
from the virus.

The woman was from Qaloubiyah province, about 25 miles (40
km) north of Cairo. The World Health Organization (WHO) said
tests were carried out by the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit
based in Cairo and that further checks would be made at one of
the WHO laboratories.

U.N. and government officials from across Africa met on
Monday in Gabon for the region's biggest bird flu conference.

Bird flu has flared anew in Asia in recent days.

Malaysia reported a new outbreak of H5N1 found among dead
chickens in the northern state of Penang.

Six dead chickens were found in Seberang Prai, on the
mainland side of a bridge that links the resort island of
Penang, one of Malaysia's top tourist attractions.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has provided some 50
protective suits for cull workers there. Afghanistan aims to
start culling on Wednesday.

Health experts insist that there is no health risk from
eating properly cooked eggs and poultry, but bird flu scares
have depressed sales of poultry.


Europe should start cutting back on its production of
chicks and hatching eggs as a first step to support poultry
prices, the EU's farm chief said Monday.

The EU's main consumer countries have seen poultry prices
fall by between 15 and 20 percent in the last five months.

"What is desperately needed is to reduce production. A
targeted approach on hatching eggs and chicks would, from my
point of view, be the most practical approach," EU Agriculture
Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told a news conference.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said the discovery
of bird flu in the United States would not be reason to panic,
noting that positive test results could turn out to be a
harmless version of the virus.

Should U.S. domestic poultry become infected, the
department would "act quickly" to quarantine an affected area
and destroy the infected flock, he said. Poultry farmers would
be compensated for their loss, he added.

In Israel, birds were being given poisoned water and their
carcasses were being buried in large pits. Four million doses
of an H5N1 vaccine for chickens were expected to arrive from
the Netherlands Tuesday, the ministry said.

Palestinian customs officials intercepted trucks carrying
5,750 baby chicks that were being smuggled into the West Bank
city of Hebron from Israel illegally. The chicks were killed.

(For more stories, pictures and video on bird flu see: