by Irene Taylor
THE Balearic government has sent samples from 225 wild and farmyard birds to Madrid for analysis since October, and all have proved to be free of bird flu.
Joan Carles Torres, the director general of agriculture, said that social alarm was unjustified, despite the recent cases detected in the Ukraine, Turkey, and to a lesser extent in Croatia and Holland. He added that the situation was “under control” and did not think that an outbreak of bird flu was likely in the Balearics.
However, he did say that extreme precautions should be taken when migratory birds return. The Balearics is a major stopping place for migratory birds on their way to Africa. These precautions, he said, were simply that -- precautions, as he did not believe that a sick bird would be strong enough migrate. The committee set up to prevent bird flu, which involves the ministries of agriculture and fisheries, health and consumer affairs, and the environment, will meet again on January 18 to evaluate the current situation. It will also discuss any decisions adopted two days earlier, at a European Union meeting which will be attended by the agriculture ministries of the 25 member states. Torrens stressed that the cases detected in Turkey were in the eastern part of the country, and that there is no imminent danger for the Balearics.
At the same time, he underlined the importance of maintaining the preventive measures which have already been set in motion by the Balearic government. These include taking samples of birds and analysing them, checking up on all poultry farms in the Balearics, watching risk areas (wetlands and natural areas), continually updating bird censuses and close control of birds and poultry at fairs and markets. Victims contract the disease from close contact with infected poultry. Experts fear the H5N1 strain of bird flu could mutate enough to allow it to pass easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions of people could die. The rash of cases in Turkey is the first time the virus has been detected in people outside east Asia since it reemerged in late 2003.
However, a World Health Organisation official said that matters in Turkey “can be brought under control relatively easily.”

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