UN Experts to Travel to Armenia to Help Prevent Bird Flu Outbreak

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–The World Health Organization (WHO) will dispatch two experts to Armenia within a week to help local authorities carry out a set of extensive measures to prevent the spread of bird flu from neighboring Turkey into Armenia.

The WHO and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) plan to send fact-finding teams to several other countries bordering Turkey–as well "to be able to see what level of preparedness these countries have."

They warned on Monday that the bird flu that has hit Turkey might have already arrived in neighboring countries–though there are no confirmed reports.

Those countries include Georgia–Armenia–Iran–and Syria–said Samuel Jutzi–FAO’s head of the animal production and health division in Rome. He stressed that the remote towns of eastern Turkey most affected by bird flu in recent weeks are on trade routes into Iran and Armenia and other nearby countries–which should be prepared as well. "Syria is at risk–Bulgaria is at risk," Jutzi said.

Armenia authorities said Tuesday that they subjected passengers of the first flight from Istanbul to Yerevan since the deadly outbreak of the deadly virus–"to stringent health and sanitary checks."

Although the Turkish-Armenian border has been closed for over a decade–the virus can be easily transmitted by wild birds that cross it on a daily basis. The two countries also have regular flight and bus services. Direct flights between Istanbul and Yerevan were effectively suspended late last month due to the New Year’s holiday.

The service resumed when a passenger jet belonging to Armenia’s largest Armavia airline landed at Istanbul airport on Monday. It returned to Yerevan early on Tuesday with some 40 passengers on board. According to a spokeswoman for the Armenian government’s Civil Aviation Department–Gayane Davtian–they all underwent medical checks on arriving at Zvartnots.

Davtian said customs officers checked their luggage and confiscated all food products that could carry the virus.

Agriculture Minister David Lokian said that Armenia has been briefed by FAO on the situation in Armenia. "We have had contact with FAO through our ambassador to Italy and regularly provide them with information," he said "I have personally twice spoken with FAO’s Budapest-based representative to our region. In any event–I have three rooms in my ministry with FAO representatives sitting there," stressed Lokian.

Armenia’s State Veterinary Inspectorate said more than a hundred carcasses of wild and domestic birds found across the country over the past week have been examined and none were found to have died from the H5N1 virus.

Residents of at least one village close to the Turkish border reported dozens of chicken deaths last week. But both they and local government officials believe that those were not caused by bird flu.

"There are many diseases that look like avian influenza," said FAO official Juan Lubroth–who just returned from an inspection tour of Turkey. "One is caused by salmonella and it is called fowl cholera. It could be fowl cholera and I would not doubt it if you show me the bacteria. It could be Newcastle Disease–another avian disease–and I wouldn’t doubt it.

"Just show me the virus. And I don’t have that. I’m not getting that type of information."

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