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http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L12764707.htm

Dutch to fight bird flu by mass poultry vaccination

12 Jan 2006 11:47:20 GMT Source: Reuters

By Anna Mudeva

AMSTERDAM, Jan 12 (Reuters) - The Dutch government wants to vaccinate its huge poultry population against bird flu in the face of growing fears of a major European outbreak, the farm ministry said on Thursday.

The deadly H5N1 avian flu virus that emerged in Asia has rapidly spread in Turkey, fuelling fears of a bigger European outbreak. It has killed at least two children in Turkey and infected more than a dozen people in little more than a week.

Bird flu experts recommend preventive vaccination to be considered seriously in the tiny and densely populated Netherlands where risk is seen higher than the rest of the European Union because of its huge numbers of poultry.

The Netherlands, where land is scarce and canals, rivers and ditches are abundant, is home to 16 million people and 90 million poultry.

"The Dutch government is in favour of preventive vaccination," a farm ministry spokesman said. "The idea is to submit a vaccination plan to the European Commission before spring.

"The main fear is of possible trade barriers from third countries, which needs to be considered," he added.

The Netherlands is Europe's second biggest poultry producer, after France and one of the world's top poultry exporters. It was hit by a deadly outbreak of bird flu of a different strain in 2003 but has seen no new cases since.

Last month, EU farm ministers agreed to update the bloc's existing bird flu law to increase controls and give governments greater flexibility to vaccinate poultry. The Dutch farm ministry said the European Commission -- the EU's executive -- still had to approve the vaccination.

The EU usually sees vaccination as a last resort and bans livestock and meat imports from countries which use vaccination.

The Dutch poultry industry unions have supported the government's plans.

Dutch virologist Albert Osterhaus, a leading world avian influenza scientist, said vaccination should be accompanied with a monitoring programme because of a two-week period needed for a vaccine to start working.

"I would definitely recommend vaccination to be considered seriously. If you have a large (poultry) population like in the Netherlands and you leave them unprotected, you're running a high risk in the future," Osterhaus told Reuters.

A study carried out by Dutch scientists concluded in November that vaccinating chickens against avian flu can arrest a major outbreak by preventing birds from passing on the virus.

The 2003 bird flu outbreak led to the culling of nearly a third of the Dutch poultry stock.

The farm ministry said it was not necessary for now to reintroduce a ban on keeping poultry indoors to prevent them from catching bird flu from migrating birds. It lifted the ban on Jan. 1 as the peak period for birds migration was over.

The ministry told farmers this week to feed and give water to poultry only indoors.

Osterhaus and farm ministry officials saw the biggest risk from a bird flu spread into western Europe from people travelling out of Turkey and smuggling chicken meat products and called for stricter EU travel and transport controls.