64251 5/16/2006 15:56 06BUCHAREST811 Embassy Bucharest UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY 06BUCHAREST523 VZCZCXRO6420 OO RUEHAST DE RUEHBM #0811/01 1361556 ZNR UUUUU ZZH O 161556Z MAY 06 FM AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4420 INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC RUEHRC/USDA WASHDC RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BUCHAREST 000811
STATE FOR EUR/NCE - WSILKWORTH AND CA/OCS/ACS-SSCHMIERER NSC FOR DAMON WILSON
E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: KFLU, TBIO, PREL, EAID, CASC, WHO, RO SUBJECT: AVIAN INFLUENZA - OUTBREAK IN ROMANIAN COMMERCIAL POULTRY FARMS
REF: A) BUCHAREST 523 B) BUCHAREST 310; C) BUCHAREST 79; D)
05 BUCHAREST 2302; E) 05 BUCHAREST 2239; F) 05 BUCHAREST 2205, G) 05 BUCHAREST 2185; H) 05 BUCHAREST 2177, I) 05 BUCHAREST 2152
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1. (SBU) Romania's National Institute for Animal Diagnosis and Health confirmed that H5N1 avian influenza (AI) has been found in Brasov County, the first confirmed case in Transylvania. Ministry officials confirmed that the virus was found in three commercial farms in the county, and warned that 11 tons of possibly tainted meat may have reached major supermarkets in Bucharest and around the country. There are fears that chickens may have been sold to other farms, potentially spreading the virus. If press reports of bribes, corruption, poor veterinary practices and flagrant violation of food safety regulations are confirmed, this could become a major scandal calling into question the GOR's ability to contain the disease. Severe economic consequences for an already beleaguered poultry industry are likely. End Summary.
Avian Flu Enters Transylvania
2. (SBU) The National Institute for Animal Diagnosis and Health confirmed on Friday, May 12, that H5N1 was found in dead birds collected from two backyard farms located near Beclean, just west of Fagaras town in Brasov County. This news marked the first confirmed case in Transylvania or outside of the normal path of migrating birds. According to the latest information from the GOR veterinary authorities, there are 5 confirmed outbreaks: one town (Fagaras) and 3 villages: Hurez (Beclean), Feldioara (Ucea) and Soars. Post notes that there are other villages under suspicion, making it likely more outbreaks will be confirmed in the coming days.
Commercial Flocks Infected
3. (SBU) On May 13, the Romanian media reported the cause of the infection was poultry purchased from a private commercial poultry farm in Codlea, just west of Brasov city. The press reported that this farm had been closed immediately by government order and that all 150,000 birds on the farm were to be destroyed. The press also reported that a second commercial farm of 600,000 birds in Codlea was also infected. A Codlea city councilman told a resident American on May 16 that the town would be under quarantine for at least three days and possibly up to three weeks. Peace Corps medical personnel were informed by the Ministry of Agriculture on May 14 that they should remove the two Peace Corps volunteers located in the affected region so that they would not be trapped inside the "code red" quarantine area.
4. (U) On May 15, Ministry officials confirmed the outbreak as H5N1 and revealed that the virus had been located in three commercial chicken farms. The outbreak was only discovered when a chicken farmer bought 500 birds and resold them to other small-scale and domestic farmers. When the farmers discovered dying birds, they turned to the authorities. According to Minister of Agriculture Flutur, the commercial farms had experienced an unusual increase in the bird mortality rate, but had failed to notify officials.
HEALTH AUTHORITIES REACT
5. (U) Authorities believe that as much as 11 tons of potentially infected meat may have found its way to store shelves in Bucharest and around the country. Health authorities are working to trace the shipments, and have already removed 1.2 tons of meat from the shelves, including from major "hypermarkets" in Bucharest and elsewhere. Processing centers receiving infected birds may also have been exposed. Press reports allege that veterinary inspectors were bribed and that the commercial farms were operating outside of government safety standards.
6. (U) It appears that government authorities reacted quickly once the outbreak became known. Three affected towns have been quarantined, traffic in and out has been restricted, and disinfection and testing is being carried out within a 10km, radius. Authorities have begun destroying chickens in commercial farms and backyards. Health officials are reportedly monitoring symptoms of
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individuals who have come in close contact with infected or potentially infected birds and are providing human flu vaccinations and Tamiflu to these individuals. Animal health authorities state that they will investigate and inspect all commercial operations to ensure that they are in compliance with government bio-security regulations. While domestic farmers will be compensated for their loss, commercial farms will only receive assistance if they have complied with sanitary regulations.
A NEW TYPE OF OUTBREAK IN ROMANIA
7. (SBU) This outbreak is substantially different than Romania's 51 previous avian influenza outbreaks. The previous outbreaks occurred in small domestic flocks in rural backyards, in small villages located close to the Danube Delta or in areas with large bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. These earlier outbreaks were attributed to migratory birds carrying the disease from Russia and Central Asia as they passed through Romania's eastern wetlands in the autumn and early winter. Health officials had been optimistic that Romania was through the worst when the last open case was closed in April and returning migratory fowl showed no signs of the disease.
8. (SBU) The current outbreaks, attributed to a large commercial farm, are located in Brasov County, in the mountainous, central region of the country where no previous outbreaks have been reported. The fact that commercial farms escaped detection points to a possible serious breakdown in sanitary regulation, particularly as such farms are required to have regular veterinary inspections. The source of the virus in Brasov County is still unknown and is currently under investigation. One theory advanced is that the disease was introduced by infected day-old chicks brought in from outside.
Mismanagement, Corruption or Bad Luck?
9. (SBU) The media has started targeting evidence of veterinary or environmental service mismanagement and/or corruption, alleging that veterinary inspectors were bribed and that the source farm was operating outside of government safety standards. In addition, the press has already identified and branded the manager of the original poultry farm that reportedly delivered diseased animals "guilty" of endangering public health, as well as the head of the local veterinary service branch and the Minister of Agriculture. According to sources, Minister of Agriculture Flutur has identified the head and deputy of the inspection division for dismissal.
10. (SBU) Reports of cover up, corruption of animal health officials, and black market sales are particularly disturbing, given the ramifications of exposing a larger population to AI. In the past, GOR officials have acted transparently, swiftly and effectively to control outbreaks among backyard fowl. The new outbreaks in Brasov and Fagaras, however, raise serious questions about Romania's readiness to control the spread of the H5N1 disease in its domestic poultry industry. While reports of malfeasance remain unconfirmed, this outbreak will force the Ministries of Health and Agriculture to take a very close look at the reliability of their local operations. In veterinary inspections, as with other interactions involving government authorities at the local and regional level, corruption remains a persistent challenge.