ISTANBUL, Turkey – The slaughter of thousands of domestic fowl in Turkey (search) and Romania (search) began Sunday as a precaution against the spread of bird flu after both countries confirmed their first cases of the disease over the weekend.
It has not been determined in either country that the disease is the same H5N1 (search) strain that has swept through poultry populations in Asia since 2003, infecting humans and killing at least 60 people.
In western Turkey, military police set up roadblocks at the entrance to a village near Balikesir. A two-mile radius was quarantined as veterinarians and other officials began destroying poultry at two turkey farms.
It was not clear how many animals would be destroyed, but the Anatolia news agency reported that authorities had slaughtered 600 out of 2,500 turkeys on one farm by noon Sunday.
Other fowl — including pigeons — and stray dogs in the village would also be killed as a precaution, said Nihat Pakdil, undersecretary of Turkey's Agriculture Ministry.
Bird flu was detected at a turkey farm after some 1,800 birds died this week, the Anatolia news agency reported. All animals in the farm were destroyed.
Turkey's Agriculture Ministry confirmed the outbreak Saturday and said the disease was believed to have spread from migratory birds on their way to Africa from Russia's Ural mountains.
The Russian government revealed in August that the H5N1 strain, which first appeared in western Siberia in July, had spread to the Ural region of Chelyabinsk.
Scientists have apparently narrowed the disease in Turkey down to an H5 (search) type virus — the family of the bird flu virus that experts fear could be the source of a potential global pandemic among humans — but have not narrowed it further to determine whether it is the H5N1 strain that health officials are particularly worried about.
Cases of bird flu were also confirmed Saturday in Romania, where a total of 40,000 birds were expected to be slaughtered as a precaution. Authorities there said no new cases of bird flu had been confirmed yet.
Tests in Britain will determine whether the disease, which infected fowl in the Danube River Delta, is the H5N1 strain.
"I think it's better to take these preventive measures now," even without the confirmation of the virus, said Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu.
Germany appealed to Romania and Turkey to provide the European Union and international specialists with all available information on the outbreaks.
"The risk to Europe and Germany itself is difficult to establish," said Alexander Mueller of Germany's Agriculture Ministry.
Some German states have already ordered farmers to keep their poultry in closed sheds or cages for two months to keep them from being exposed to migratory birds that might spread bird flu from Russia.
In Asia, the H5N1 strain has killed at least 60 people, mostly poultry workers, and resulted in the deaths of more than 100 million birds. The virus does not pass from person to person easily, but experts believe it could mutate to a form that becomes a human flu virus, passing easily between people and triggering a pandemic.