Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Avian Flu Continues To Move Westward

First, this report from Germany:

BERLIN (Reuters) - Two dead swans in Germany have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, the Agriculture and Consumer Protection ministry said on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the ministry told Reuters two of four dead swans found on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen had registered positive in an initial test for the virus.

And this warning from France:

The French food safety agency AFSSA warned of a heightened risk of the deadly bird flu virus reaching the country, and called for poultry to be kept indoors wherever possible.

The government is expected to announce on Wednesday extra safety measures based on AFSSA's recommendation, after Austria became the latest European country to report the presence of the deadly H5N1 virus.

France is Europe's biggest poultry producer, with free-range birds accounting for 17 percent of its production -- as well as western Europe's main crossroads for migratory birds, potential carriers of the virus.

According to a member of the AFSSA expert panel, it is only a matter of time before bird flu arrives in France.

"We have absolutely no control over the introduction of the virus by migratory birds that are about to start returning from Africa to Siberia, Scandinavia and Greenland. It is unavoidable," Jean Hars told AFP.

"All migratory species either fly over or stop in France," he added, warning that the deadly virus could be carried by pigeons, sparrows or birds of prey as well as by geese and ducks.

One thing is becoming clear: there is a very strong potential that the virus will eventually make it's way to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security has made state and local governments increasingly aware of this, but it remains the responsiblity of these local branches to prepare for the arrival of the virus.

Our ability to deal with the H5N1 virus hinges on the preparedness of our local governtments. The sooner plans are put into effect, the sooner we will be ready to avoid the devastating results of being unprepared, such as what we witnessed with Katrina.