LONDON (AP) – Senior veterinary officials from around the European Union agreed Friday on new measures aimed at preventing a lethal strain of bird flu from entering the bloc, a day after it was confirmed on the continent’s doorstep in Turkey.

The officials also moved to calm fears on a continent with vivid memories of mad cow disease, saying there was no reason to avoid cooked chicken because bird flu is killed in seconds when the meat is cooked.

The new measures, agreed upon after two days of emergency talks, focus on infection-control measures on farms and expanding early detection systems to high risk areas, such as wetlands frequented by wild birds, said a statement issued late Friday by the EU.

The EU has banned poultry imports from Turkey and Romania, where bird flu was also detected this week. Officials in the two countries destroyed more fowl on Friday.

In Turkey, Betul Demirel of Seker Pilic poultry company said the sector had come “close to a standstill” after people stopped eating poultry products. “There is an 80 percent decrease in sales,” since the outbreak began, she said.

Turkish veterinary officials in protective plastic suits, masks and goggles were trying to catch the remaining birds in the village of Kiziksa, where the virus was detected, and to persuade villagers who were hiding their chickens to surrender the birds.

Officials carried out medical tests on nine people in a neighborhood where 40 pigeons reportedly died, but released them from medical observation Friday after determining they did not likely have bird flu.

EU health officials assured Europeans it was safe to eat poultry and that human infection with bird flu was rare. It was too early to determine whether there had been an impact on poultry consumption across the continent.

Preliminary tests found bird flu in a duck and a chicken from Romania, but definitive test results on whether it is the virulent H5N1 strain are not expected until Saturday at the earliest. The lethal strain, blamed for the deaths of 60 people in Asia, was confirmed in Turkey on Thursday.

Officials in the Balkans sought to soothe fears by showing they weren’t afraid of fowl.

Romanian President Traian Basescu urged his people to continue eating chicken Friday, saying his wife is cooking it at home. In Hungary, where the Poultry Product Board reported the sale of chicken immediately fell 10-15 percent when the outbreak started, Agriculture Minister Jozsef Graf ate a roasted leg of chicken Friday at a downtown food market.

The risk of contracting bird flu from handling raw packaged chicken bought in supermarkets is considered negligible, said Bernard Vallat, director general of the World Organization for Animal Health, adding that no such cases have ever been recorded.

During the late 1980s and 1990s, mad cow disease severely hurt the beef industry in several European countries. Exports from affected countries were banned and thousands of cattle were destroyed to stop the spread.

The World Health Organization moved Friday to calm fears about bird flu by stressing the risk of people getting infected is very low.

Since the outbreak began in Asia two years ago, 117 people have become infected and they were mostly poultry farmers and others involved in plucking and preparing sick birds, handling cockfights or playing with ducks and drinking duck blood.

However, concerns over infection ran high in Greece, where citizens were reported to be crowding pharmacies to buy the antiviral Tamiflu drug, as well as flu vaccines – which experts say are useless against bird flu.

The rush prompted the health ministry to issue a public appeal against panic-induced shopping for vaccines.

Deputy Health Minister Thanassis Yiannopoulos told private Alter television on Friday: “We must not all rush to the pharmacy to buy vaccines, because the people who really need them will not have any.”

Seasonal flu vaccines are considered important for the elderly, young children and people with heart disease and chronic respiratory diseases. However, stamping out the outbreaks in poultry swiftly is important for human health because the further the virus is allowed to spread, the more opportunities it has to mutate into a form that passes easily to and between people, sparking a human flu pandemic.

Authorities were combing areas along the path of migratory birds for dead birds, and rushing any samples to laboratories for testing, Agriculture Ministry official Beytullah Okay said.

Experts believe the disease came from wild birds migrating through Turkey from the Ural Mountains in Russia to Africa.

Turkish officials carried out medical tests on nine people living in a neighborhood where 40 pigeons reportedly died, but released the nine from medical observation Friday after determining they did not likely have bird flu.

AP-ES-10-14-05 1708EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.