The European Commission has today (13 February) confirmed outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 in three member countries. The virus, which has caused 88 confirmed human deaths in Asia and the Middle East and forced the culling of millions of birds, has been discovered in Italy, Greece and Slovenia.

In Italy it was discovered that wild swans on the eastern coast of Sicily, in Taranto (Puglia) and in Calabria were infected with the disease, while in Greece samples from three wild swans in the prefectures of Thessaloniki and Pieria tested positive. One wild swan in Slovenia has been found to carry the disease.

On Friday, Greece adopted measures designed to prevent the spread of the disease to domestic poultry. These measures include the establishment of a three-kilometre high-risk protection zone around where infected swans have been found and a ten-kilometre surveillance area.

In the protected zone, poultry must be kept indoors and the movement of poultry is limited to transportation to the slaughterhouse. The transportation of meat outside the zone is banned, except where products have undergone the controls provided for in EU food controls legislation. In both the protection zone and the surveillance zone on-farm biosecurity measures are to be strengthened and the hunting of wild birds is to be prohibited.

These measures were adopted by Italy over the weekend, while the Slovenian authorities implemented the measures today.

The Standing Committee on the Food and Chain and Animal Health, which meets on 16-17 February, will review the avian influenza situation in Italy, Greece, Slovenia and other affected countries.

Meanwhile, it has also been confirmed that the H5N1 virus caused the recent case of bird flu in wild swans the Bulgarian region of Vidin. Currently, no poultry or poultry products can be imported in to the EU, due to previous cases of Newcastle disease. However, these restrictions will be reviewed by the by the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFCAH) and possibly eased to a regional import ban of poultry from areas affected by bird flu.