"Belgium Reports Two New Suspected Bird Flu Cases"
Apr 20 2003 7:48AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Two new suspected cases of the highly contagious bird flu disease have been discovered in Belgian farms near the Dutch border, a spokesman for the national food safety agency said on Sunday.

The disease has spilled over into Belgium from the neighboring Netherlands, where some 11 million birds have been slaughtered since late February in an effort to control it.

"We strongly suspect two new cases of bird flu in Belgium," Pascal Houbaert, spokesman for the food safety agency AFSCA told Reuters, adding that all poultry within a three kilometer radius of the affected farms would be slaughtered.

This could amount to 270,000 birds on top of the 250,000 Belgium has already slaughtered after a first case was discovered in the eastern region of Limburg on Wednesday.

Dutch officials said on Saturday a Dutch veterinarian had died of pneumonia after catching avian flu, raising fears that a mutated version of the virus could cause a SARS-type epidemic in people.

The World Health Organisation said it was conceivable that the illness could turn into a human epidemic, just as an animal disease is believed to be the possible origin of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) sweeping the globe.

But a WHO spokesman played down the fear on Saturday, saying the disease did not appear to spread easily from human to human.

The new suspected Belgian cases were in Kinrooi, also in Limburg and in an area closely monitored by food safety authorities.

Houbaert said that following the sudden death of the Dutch veterinarian, Belgian authorities have recommended all those coming into contact with the animals take antiviral medicines.

Belgium has banned exports of live chickens and eggs and stopped transport of all poultry and poultry products within the country. The European Commission has enforced the ban at European Union level until April 25.