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IP/03/564

Brussels, 23 April 2003

Update on avian influenza in the Netherlands and Belgium

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health met today to discuss again the avian influenza situation in the Netherlands and Belgium. In general the existing restrictive measures adopted to prevent the spreading of the disease and to eradicate it have been extended until 12 May. The Committee also had an exchange of information with regard to the public health aspects of the current epidemic.

The Netherlands

Since the beginning of the outbreak of avian influenza (AI) in the Netherlands on 28 February, 233 infected holdings have been confirmed and another 23 are seriously suspected to be contaminated. In total, approximately 18 million birds in about 1000 holdings have been culled.

The Committee today voted in favour of a Commission proposal to extend until 12 May the existing measures to prevent the spreading of the disease and to eradicate it. No live poultry, hatching eggs and fresh, unprocessed poultry manure or litter may be exported to other Member States or third countries and, with some derogations, no live poultry and hatching eggs may be transported within the Netherlands. The Netherlands shall also ensure that in the buffer zones, created around infected areas, all poultry will be culled as soon as possible.

In addition to these existing measures, tests will be done on pigs kept on infected holdings and movement restrictions apply to the movement of pigs in case of positive findings. The Netherlands may also decide to apply vaccination against AI of susceptible birds in zoos.

Belgium

Last week, on 15 April, avian influenza also spread to Belgium, in the province of Limburg. To date three outbreaks have been confirmed and two strong suspictions are under examination.

The Committee extended until 12 May the measures already adopted by the Commission on 16 April (see IP/03/552) which are similar to those taken in the Netherlands. Furthermore, Belgium shall ensure the preventive depopulation of poultry holdings in the surveillance zone as soon as possible to create a buffer zone. Tests will also be carried out on pigs in infected holdings. Belgium may also decide to apply vaccination against AI of susceptible birds in zoos.

Public health aspects

Influenza viruses of avian origin may rarely affect other animals or humans. Usually, the sickness induced in humans by virus strains of avian origin is not serious (conjunctivitis, some respiratory signs).

Therefore, Dutch and Belgian authorities advised that veterinarians and other workers or farmers and their families having direct contact with affected poultry to take protective measures. Those at risk people shall use protective clothes and glasses, receive vaccination against human influenza and use prophylactic treatment with antiviral drugs.

A total of 82 human cases of conjunctivitis due to AI have been reported in the Netherlands and one in Belgium. A Dutch veterinarian died on 17 April of influenza like illness and bilateral pneumonia. Following the post-mortem examination, the Dutch authorities have arrived at the conclusion that his death was linked directly to AI virus. It appears however that the veterinarian did not take the antiviral drugs.

However, at present AI does not represent a risk to the general public. Furthermore, it must be distinguished from the current Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which is caused by a different virus (most likely a Coronavirus).

The Commission and the Member states urged the Dutch and Belgian authorities to take all protective measures to prevent influenza infections of the workers and other persons at risk. Again, these measures may include the use of protective clothing, gloves and glasses, vaccination and prophylactic antiviral treatment


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