UN praises Italys response to deadly bird flu after discovery in south

Italy has taken “extremely effective” measures to control the spread of the deadly bird flu virus after it was discovered in six wild swans in the south of the country, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today, emphasizing that continued vigilance was necessary to control the disease.In a statement from Rome, the FAO said that there was no evidence that the virus was present in poultry in Italy but called on commercial farms to adhere to hygiene and sanitation standards set by the authorities, which include confining poultry so as to avoid any potential contact with wild birds.“The measures are an example of how governments should move to contain the virus once it is detected,” said Juan Lubroth, Senior Officer with FAO’s Animal Health and Production Division.”It is vital that control and surveillance measures continue. There is not much we can do about wildlife, but to prevent the spread of the virus we must control the way poultry is raised and the way poultry products are marketed”, he added.According to the FAO expert, veterinary services in Italy and in the rest of the European Union are quite efficient. “This is cause for hope that the spread of the disease will be halted, that no spread to poultry occurs, and the risk of a pandemic is decreased,” Mr. Lubroth said.The FAO also said that the current situation in Italy does not mean that consumers should avoid eating poultry products. The agency also stressed that bird flu currently remains an animal disease, and that the battle against the virus can be won if it is eliminated at its source, in animals.Recently, bird flu was found in Nigeria and last week the FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health called on veterinary authorities in the country to immediately close down poultry markets in the affected regions to try and stem the spread of the virus.During the last two years, several countries have reported outbreaks of avian influenza caused by the H5N1 virus in people, and close to 100 have died, most of them in Viet Nam. In addition more than 140 million chickens have been slaughtered in an effort to contain the disease. So far, the virus has only spread from infected animals to humans, but the World Health Organization has warned that it could change into a form that spreads easily from person to person, triggering an influenza pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people worldwide. Last month, donors pledged $1.9 billion to fight the spread of the disease, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for a massive, coordinated international response to the virus.