Infectious Diseases 2004

Infectious Diseases 2004

Belgium: A Thai man smuggled two bird flu-infected Asian eagles into Brussels airport

24 October, 2004

October 2004, a Thai man traveling from Bangkok to Brussels was apprehended by customs officials at Brussels international airport, and found to be illegally carrying two mountain hawk eagles (Spizaetus Nipalensis) in his hand luggage. These birds were wrapped in a cotton cloth, with the heads free, and inserted headfirst in a bamboo tube around 60 cm in length, with one end (the feet end) open. The two tubes were in a kind of sports bag, with the zip not totally closed to allow some air to enter.
The birds were immediately put into quarantine at the airport. They later tested positive for avian influenza H5N1, which is currently circulating widely in southeast Asia, and were euthanised.
The H5N1 diagnosis was made using a hemagglutination inhibition test using monospecific polysera and confirmed by H5 specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Sequencing is ongoing. The high pathogenicity of the virus was confirmed using the intravenous pathogenicity index. The intravenous pathogenicity index (IVPI) is 2.92.
The Thai man, who received prophylactic treatment on 24 October, traveled to Vienna from Bangkok on 17/18 October with EVA Airways, flight number BR 0061, and then got a connecting flight to Brussels on 18 October with Austrian Airlines, flight number OS351. Passengers on these flights were advised to get medical advice if they had any flu-like symptoms.
Other birds had also been kept in the airport quarantine area between 18 October and 23 October (day of controlled disinfection), and therefore were potentially exposed to the avian influenza virus. Approximately 200 parrots and 600 smaller birds that had been in contact with some of these birds were culled preventively in Belgium. All PCR tests on samples from these birds have been negative so far. Other birds had already been shipped to the Netherlands and Russia. The authorities of these countries have been informed.
The eagles had been ordered by a Belgian falconer who offered 7500 Euro for each bird. This falconer already owned four other eagles of the same species. These two birds detected by customs may reflect a much larger underlying problem of bird smuggling into European Union member states. They easily remain undetected because airport scanners only detect metal objects
In February, the European Commission banned imports of live birds and poultry products from countries in south Asia, including Thailand, and Malaysia. This ban has been extended to 31 March 2005 (Eurosurveillance).