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Brussels, 19 May 2011

Animal health: EU vet team to assist South Africa following outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza

Following a recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in South Africa, a European Commission emergency veterinary team arrived yesterday on-the spot to give technical assistance to the local authorities to control the disease.

Since 2007, a Decision provides a framework (Decision 2007/142/EC adopted on 27 February 2007) for the deployment of emergency veterinary teams that can assist third countries and Member States in case of severe animal disease outbreaks.

The teams provide scientific, technical and managerial assistance on-the-spot and help survey, monitor, control and eradicate such diseases. In case of highly contagious and rapidly spread animal diseases, a quick reaction is crucial, as is efficient expert support.

The HPAI was first detected on 9 April 2011 in ostrich farms in South Africa's Klein Karoo Valley in the Western Cape Province. In the following weeks the disease spread further in the area endangering the local ostrich population that is kept for meat production.

While the disease has not had any public health impact, it is having a major animal health and welfare impact and serious economic effects on the local rural population. In fact, following the outbreak exports of ostrich meat, usually destined for the EU market, have been immediately stopped to prevent the spread of the disease outside South Africa's borders.

The expert support team will help control the disease, thus limiting the risk and impact it may have on other poultry and eventually reducing trade restrictions.

South Africa has already experienced outbreaks of HPAI in 2004 and 2006. Similarly to the current outbreak, these were not caused by the "Asiatic" H5N1, which may have a significant impact on human health.

Since its establishment in 2007, the EU emergency vet team has carried out 12 missions in seven Member States and five third countries to support disease control. The last emergency mission was realised in February in Bulgaria following outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease.

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