WASHINGTON, D.C. and ROME -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization today qualified as "extremely effective" the control measures taken by Italian authorities following the discovery of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus in six wild swans in southern Italy.

"The measures are an example of how governments should move to contain the virus once it is detected," said Juan Lubroth, senior officer with FAO's Animal Health and Production Division.

"It is vital that control and surveillance measures continue. There is not much we can do about wildlife, but to prevent the spread of the virus, we must control the way poultry is raised and the way poultry products are marketed," he added.

No evidence in domestic poultry

"It is important to underline that there is no evidence that the H5NI virus is present in poultry in Italy. At the moment, the disease remains confined to individual cases in wild birds only," Lubroth said.

According to the FAO expert, veterinary services in Italy and in the rest of the European Union are quite efficient.

"This is cause for hope that the spread of the disease will be halted, that no spread to poultry occurs, and the risk of a pandemic is decreased," he said.

Commercial poultry farms in Italy must now adhere to hygiene and sanitation standards set by health authorities -- for example, confining poultry so as to avoid any potential contact with wild birds.

FAO says no cause for panic

FAO recommends that only healthy and inspected poultry enter the commercial food chain. The current situation in Italy does not provide consumers with any cause to avoid eating poultry products.

The agency stresses that bird flu currently remains an animal disease, and that the battle against the virus can be won if it is eliminated at its source, in animals.

SOURCE: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.