The discovery by a young boy of 22 dead geese at a pond in western Germany has raised fears that avian flu may have already found its way into the country, though officials are urging the public to remain calm.
Firemen from the town of Neuwied wore biological protection suits to scoop up the carcasses at a flooded gravel pit Monday evening and take them in metal boxes to the laboratory in nearby Koblenz run by the German state of Rhineland Palatinate. Some of the geese gave a last sharp twitch and died as the firemen watched. However, the swans on the same pond appeared to be healthy. Also, there was no external sign on the birds that they had died of influenza.
Amid fears that avian influenza has spread to wild birds in Europe, a German laboratory was testing Tuesday the remains of the dead geese. Stefan Bent, head of the state animal inspection office, said 20 scientists were assigned to urgently discover the cause of death.
The results of the tests are awaited. The tests first had to establish if the birds were killed by influenza at all. If so, the scientists would establish if the deadly H5N1 strain of flu was involved.
Bent said it was unknown if the dead birds had spent the summer in Germany, which is free of bird flu, or were in migration from Russia, where the H5N1 virus has been detected, to winter feeding grounds.
So far the H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus has reached Russia, Romania and Turkey. The only poultry infection in western Europe has been at a British quarantine station. More than 60 people in Asia have caught the illness from birds and died.
Concern is mounting that a strain of the avian flu virus harmful to humans -- the H5N1 strain -- could spread in Europe. Russia has confirmed cases of birds killed by the H5N1 strain, and tests are being conducted on dead birds in Croatia, Hungary and Portugal.
Germany has ordered that free range poultry be kept indoors till December in the hope of limiting the spread of the disease, which is carried by migratory birds. Germany and Britain have backed a full-scale ban on imports of poultry to the European Union.
If confirmed, the suspected cases would be Germany's first cases of the strain that has devastated poultry stocks in Asia in the past two years.
Medindia on Bird Flu:
Avian influenza (AI) or Bird Flu is a disease of viral etiology that ranges from a mild or even asymptomatic infection to an acute, fatal disease of chickens, turkeys, guinea fowls, and other avian species, especially migratory waterfowl.