Dr Petya Petkova, BFSA: For the first time ever, we are encountering avian influenza at such a large scale in Bulgaria and Europe5 January 2017 | 15:07 | Radio FOCUS
FOCUS: The national operational headquarters on control and eradication of avian influenza is meeting at the BFSA. Dr Petkova, how many outbreaks of avian influenza have been detected in Bulgaria? Which are the most affected areas, and in what regions?
Petya Petkova: From the date of our initial suspicion – December 16, by the current moment we have 31 outbreaks of the disease, with 29 of them being in poultry, and two of them in wild birds, in the regions of Yambol and Pazardzhik, respectively. Regarding poultry, the most affected areas are Plovdiv with 13 outbreaks, followed by Stara Zagora with 5 outbreaks, Vidin with 4, and Vratsa, Montana, Sofia region, Kardzhali, and Haskovo with one each.
FOCUS: Does this data give reason to believe there is an epidemic of the disease?
Petya Petkova: We could say that there is a very complicated epidemiological situation, which is very quickly spread, as there are good meteorological conditions that allow the influenza to spread fast. Really, for the very first time in Bulgaria and in Europe, we are encountering such a highly pathogenic strain that affects a large number of birds very fast. In the last case we have experienced with poultry – from last year, only one yard was affected. The current situation is really very complicated and is causing concern.
FOCUS: When the disease is discovered in a certain yard, are all birds exterminated, or only the sick ones?
Petya Petkova: In accordance to European law, it is necessary to exterminate, kill, and subsequently dispose of all contacted and all sick birds. I.e., if there are several premises, the birds in all of the premises in the farm are exterminated, and consequently the birds that made contact with them. If there are related subjects, this is the way it follows –in order for a complete breaking of the chain for the spreading of the virus, these birds have to be exterminated.
FOCUS: How many birds were exterminated so far? What is their number?
Petya Petkova: For the outbreaks I mentioned, we currently have over 110,000 exterminated birds. But today, the confirmed outbreaks have affected several very large poultry farms. In one of them, we have 100,000 birds, i.e. there are about 150,000 birds yet to be exterminated after the confirmed outbreaks by the current date.
FOCUS: In other words, the available 100,000 birds are to be exterminated in one farm?
Petya Petkova: 100,000 birds in only one farm, yes. We speak of industrially produced ducks that are grown in yards where they have contact with wild ducks. And it is believed that it is exactly the wild migrating birds that are one of the main sources of infection for the poultry, through direct contact around a water source or through feed and faeces. That is why there are high measures for bio security. The birds are bred in captivity exactly so that we can avoid this possible contact between poultry and wild birds.
FOCUS: I am guessing that an epidemic of such a scale has not been seen in our country in recent years?
Petya Petkova: Not only in our country, but throughout Europe. For the first time ever, we and our colleagues from the veterinary services of other affected countries are encountering an epidemic of such scale. There has never been one before.
FOCUS: Is there a chance that meat from the infected birds has found its way on the market? Is there a danger to the people?
Petya Petkova: There is no such danger. We have undertaken all measures related to the production, processing, and selling of poultry meat, as well as bird products and eggs. There is heightened control in slaughterhouses. There is no danger of consuming poultry meat, but we still give certain recommendations that are important to be followed by consumers – to not consume raw or undercooked meat, for it to undergo heat treatment, with the minimum that we recommend being 70 degrees. This applies to all poultry products, including eggs. Also, good personal hygiene is needed in preparing the food, washing one’s hands and containers that were in contact with the raw meat.
FOCUS: Could people also get infected if they are in contact with infected birds?
Petya Petkova: There is no reason for panic because, for this strain that we have found with birds in not just Bulgaria, but also in other affected countries in Europe, there is no data about it infecting people. The real danger is when people who show signs of flu get in contact with birds affected by the strain, which could potentially cause a mutation of the virus leading to bigger complications to people. That is why we recommend people that show symptoms of the flu to not get in contact with sick or infected birds, and to have good personal hygiene. Also to wear masks, to not enter their homes with the same clothes they have worn while near birds, to have good personal hygiene, to wash their hands more often, to change clothes – these are the personal safety measures which each one of us could undertake.
FOCUS: What are the symptoms of the sickness itself in birds? How easy it is to recognise by owners, so that they could report it?
Petya Petkova: This sickness is practically a strong virus sickness in poultry and wild birds. The most noticeable thing is the high level of mortality. For a very short time, a large number dies, even up to 100% we could say, in poultry and wild fowl. So, this is the first symptom. What is important is for citizens to report to us in case of high mortality, or in case they notice nervous signs, problems with the respiratory system, or breathing difficulties in the birds. And the other signs are changes in the internal organs, which are found by our veterinarian specialists. What is very important is that there is a hotline that is on the website of the BFSA, as well as emails. We warn people not to pick up the bodies of the birds themselves, but signal to us, and we will take the samples in order to prove or refute a certain suspicion.
FOCUS: Is there a vaccine against avian influenza, and is it only recommended or mandatory?
Petya Petkova: There is no vaccine for the birds. No vaccine is applied to birds against the sickness. So the sickness could not be prevented.
FOCUS: And after the infected birds are exterminated in a certain yard, could healthy birds be taken and immediately bred at the same place? Is there a quarantine period?
Petya Petkova:What is important is to perform mechanical cleaning, several disinfections in order to guarantee that the virus has been exterminated. And the minimum standby time given for an empty farm is 21 days after the last clean-up and disinfection has been performed. In order to settle birds again in an infected area, a special permission is required by the official veterinarians and the relevant food safety directorates.
FOCUS: I am not sure how relevant my next question is to you, Dr Petkova, but could the owners of the infected birds rely on some compensation in such a situation?
Petya Petkova: In accordance to the Republic of Bulgaria’s laws, all owners of affected birds that were killed, and consequently the products destroyed with the goal of exterminating the sickness and breaking the chain of infection, will be compensated to the amount of the market price. Each of them has a corresponding procedure – documents are sent, and on the basis of last month’s market price in the region in which the birds were bred, the state pays compensation.
FOCUS: Are the documents sent to the agency?
Petya Petkova: On a regional level, where the farms are located.
FOCUS: What measures have been undertaken to limit the disease?
Petya Petkova: What we have undertaken as Food Safety Agency is immediately introducing actions in accordance to Bulgarian and European law, as well as the commission’s decisions to impose the relevant measures. What specifically? Exterminating all birds in affected sites; strict cleaning and disinfection, not just one the sites but the surrounding regions; defining safety and surveillance zones – these are 3km and 10km around the outbreaks; prohibiting moving of live birds and products from them, both from the safety and the surveillance zones; prohibiting markets and all gatherings of birds – exhibitions, public presentations of birds. With the cooperation of the Ministry of Interior, as well as the colleagues from State Agency National Security, all restrictions are complied with strictly, in relation to mobility on sites in the surveillance and safety zones. As of yesterday, we also have a prohibition on hunting of wild birds on the territory of the entire country.
FOCUS: How long will this prohibition be in effect?
Petya Petkova: The period in accordance to law is at least 30 days since the last outbreak in the country. So, at this stage we cannot say how long this period will be. But this 30 day period is extended every day, according to the date of the outbreak report.
FOCUS: Is there a chance for Bulgaria to apply to the European Union for some sort of compensation in relation to this situation?
Petya Petkova: Each country, in accordance to European law, is obliged to present a financial report on the expenses in relation to the eradication of outbreaks, and 50% of these expenses are compensated by the European Commission. What exactly is compensated? The expenses for disinfection, the extermination of birds in the sites, as well as compensation for the laboratory research that has been undergone. They are listed in details in the European legislation, and we will of course send requests to the European Commission to receive financing, i.e. reimbursement of 50% of the actual expenses, after eradicating the outbreaks.
FOCUS: Currently there are no reports of a person infected with avian influenza, right?
Petya Petkova: Regarding the strain found in birds, there is no such data neither in Bulgaria, nor the other affected countries in Europe.
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