Dutch veterinarians begin voluntary vaccination program because of bird flu

Dutch veterinarians began a voluntary vaccination program Thursday to help block the deadly strain of bird flu from reaching the Netherlands.

Commercial poultry farmers with free-range laying hens were encouraged to participate because "the birds are at high risk of catching the virus," said Cindy Heijdra of the ministry of Agriculture. The country has not detected any cases of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain.

Only birds older than seven weeks are to be inoculated. The European Union last month approved of the vaccination campaign, which will continue until June 30.

The Agriculture Ministry said it would pay for blood tests for the birds, but the farmers would have to pay for the vaccinations.

The Netherlands is the second largest producer of poultry in Europe after France. In 2004, 333 million live birds were exported, 75 percent of them to neighboring Germany, according to government figures.

In a quarterly report Wednesday, the Dutch Central Bank warned that a major flu pandemic could lead to at least a five percent drop in the gross national product.

An outbreak of a different strain of bird flu in 2003 led to the culling of around 30 million birds and infected 89 people, killing one, reports the AP.


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