Czech officials confirmed Thursday the country's first outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain in poultry, at a turkey farm in the centre of the country.
"It is confirmed, it is H5N1," the spokesman for the State Veterinary Administration, Zbynek Semerad, told AFP. Around 1,800 turkeys have already died at the farm at Tisova, near the central town of Usti-nad-Orlici, which has a flock of around 6,000 birds.
Until now, bird flu has only been detected in wild swans in the Czech Republic, with the first case dating from March 20, 2006. Thirteen cases followed over the next months. Health authorities, who threw up a three-kilometre (two-mile) and 10-kilometre cordon around the poultry farm on Wednesday, started to slaughter the remainder of the flock on Thursday, according to Czech television.
"All small flocks of birds around Tisova will also have to be killed," Semerad said. The H5N1 strain has killed almost 200 people and ravaged poultry flocks worldwide since 2003. "As Tisova was a closed breeding facility and the birds have never been transported elsewhere, I believe that this first case could remain an isolated one," Semerad explained.
"The virus probably originated from contaminated straw bedding," he added. No domestic poultry can be moved within the restricted area. "Strict checks will be imposed, with a ban on the movements of animals, a count of all breeding poultry and a ban on bird shows and markets," Semerad said.
Moves to calm public concern also began on Thursday. "The important thing is that we have a security system that is working," the country's chief hygiene officer, Michal Vit, said on television. The chance of bird to human contamination was "very low, minimal" he stressed, highlighting the lower hygiene standards and the close proximity of humans and birds in Asia, where most deadly cases of bird flu have occurred.
"People living in the area should not fear that it will spread," Vit added. Nonetheless, Czech health minister Tomas Julinek said that health workers at the turkey farm would "preventively" be given Tamiflu, the drug judged most effective against bird flu. "This is purely a preventive move, there is no risk for people," Julinek said.
Frantisek Bartos, who runs the farm, said that none of the turkeys currently being raised there had been sold, as they had yet to reach their optimum weight. The Czech Republic has around 700 professional poultry farms with hundreds of thousands of private citizens also breeding poultry.
The European Commission said Thursday that the situation in the Czech Republic would be "re-evaluated" at a meeting of veterinary experts from EU member states in Brussels on June 28 In Moscow, Alexei Alekseenko, a spokesman for the state veterinary inspectorate Rosselkhoznadzor, told AFP that a Russian ban on Czech poultry -- covering live birds, meat, eggs and equipment connected to the poultry industry -- "will be introduced in the next two to three days".