Greece bans poultry exports whereas tests for virus prove negative

Greek authorities have not detected any more cases of bird flu following the discovery of an infected turkey on a small Aegean island this week, agriculture officials said Tuesday. Tests were being carried out on a sample taken from the turkey on the islet of Oinouses at an EU-approved laboratory in Thessaloniki to confirm initial results that the bird was suffering from the H5 virus.

Scientists will know in a week whether it was infected with the deadly H5N1 strain, which has decimated flocks and killed 60 people in Asia since 2003.

Greece banned the export of live birds and poultry products from Aegean Sea islands neighboring Oinouses, a tiny islet close to the Turkish coast with a population of about 700 where the country's first bird flu case was detected on Monday, Agriculture Minister Evangelos Bassiakos said.

The preventive measure was taken in cooperation with EU officials and will apply to the islands of Oinouses, Chios and Psara.

Bassiakos' deputy, Alekos Kontos, said veterinarians were checking samples taken from around the country but all were negative.

"We are examining samples from all over Greece," Kontos said. "Except for the sample on Oinouses there are no other positive samples."

The Health Ministry announced that a team of inspectors would examine workers at the small, family-run turkey farm on Oinouses for flu symptoms Tuesday. Farm workers would be under observation for the next week, the ministry said.

"I can't understand how it could happen," farm owner Dimitris Komninaris said. "The turkeys started looking sick and falling over. Three went missing last Friday and were eaten by stray cats and dogs. Then I saw two more, and I got worried."

Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis said most Greek hospitals were prepared for a potential flu crisis. "All 52 large hospitals that cover the great majority of Greece's needs have implemented measures included in our emergency plans," he said.

Most _ including the Chios hospital _ are already equipped with isolation units prepared ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games and for the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, scare in late 2003.

Kaklamanis said Greece is facing a shortage of flu vaccines and has ordered an extra 210,000 shots. Authorities have instructed pharmacists to only issue vaccines on a doctor's prescription.

On an international level, Kaklamanis said Greece will urge the European Union to coordinate efforts across its 25 member states. At a meeting of Balkan and Black Sea countries planned for next month, the Greek government will offer to head a similar effort in the region.


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