Greece to spend much money on bird flu defenses

Greece has earmarked Ђ3.9 million (US$4.7 million) in extra funding to boost its defenses against a possible bird flu outbreak, the Finance Ministry said on Friday. According to preliminary results, at least 21 people in neighboring Turkey have been infected with the potentially deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, four of whom have died.

The extra funding will go to the Agriculture Ministry, a Finance Ministry announcement said. Finance Minister George Alogoskoufis also approved the hiring of an additional 250 veterinarians to handle any "unforeseen and urgent needs that may arise from bird flu," the ministry said.

Greece has so far reported no cases of bird flu. The country recently boosted checks at its borders, airports and seaports, and has added 500 veterinary staff to carry out inspections. Agriculture Minister Evangelos Bassiakos toured eastern Aegean Sea islands and parts of northeastern Greece this week to coordinate preparations against a possible outbreak of the disease. Greek laboratories have tested samples from more than 2,000 wild and domestic birds since October 2005, but all have been negative for bird flu.

Consumption of poultry in Greece has dropped by 40 percent since Jan. 1, compared with January 2005, according to the National Association of Poultry Farmers. Experts say, however, that people cannot become sick from eating cooked poultry, reports the AP. N.U.