"Confirmation that highly pathogenic avian influenza has been found in Turkey and that avian influenza is now also in Romania is of concern. It shows that there is a risk to the UK," Debby Reynolds, chief vet at the UK's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said on Thursday.

"We will now carry out an assessment immediately to determine what the risk is and whether any further measures need to be taken," she added.

Precautionary measures

The EU was readying precautionary measures on Thursday, including the stockpiling of more anti-viral drugs, amid confirmation that the bird flu virus found in Turkish poultry was the H5N1 strain that scientists worry might mutate and cause a pandemic in humans.

An EU laboratory confirmed that the virus found in Turkish poultry was the strain linked to the deaths of 60 people in Asia, EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou said.

EU experts, meanwhile, were awaiting results of other tests from samples taken from dead birds in Romania, to see if they too were of the same virulent H5N1 strain.

Tests late on Wednesday in Romania came back positive for bird flu, and scientists have narrowed the strain to an H5-type virus.

The confirmation set off a slew of emergency talks of EU veterinary experts here, tasked with reviewing preventive measures to ensure the strain does not enter the 25-nation bloc.

The EU experts adjourned talks on Thursday but were to continue on Friday and to decide on measures then, officials said.

Fears

Kyprianou sought to calm fears of an imminent human pandemic spreading across Europe, saying his office was moving quickly to coordinate new precautionary measures.

The EU seeks to calm fears of an
imminent human pandemic

The bird virus would have to mutate into a form that passes easily between people for a pandemic to occur and there is no evidence that it has done so.

The European Commission was proposing to set aside $1.2 billion to help make and distribute anti-virals and vaccines in case of a pandemic, Kyprianou said.

He advised EU countries to administer the standard flu vaccine to vulnerable populations: people over age 65, infants and those with weakened immune systems or chronic respiratory conditions and also those living near the outbreak sites.

Kyprianou urged EU nations to work with pharmaceutical companies to stockpile anti-viral drugs, saying: "It's the first line of defence."

Conference

Elsewhere, Greece has decided to host a conference of health ministers from Balkan and Black Sea countries next month to coordinate response measures to the avian flu threat, Health Minister Nikitas Kaklamanis said on Thursday.

"The prime minister has approved plans for a conference of health ministers from the Balkans and the Black Sea early in November," Kaklamanis said after briefing Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.

"The conference is designed to draft a common plan of action in the case of an avian flu pandemic," he added.

The initiative comes hours after the European Commission announced that bird samples from Romania tested positive for avian flu, though adding that it was not yet clear whether the particular virus is the Asian strain that is lethal to humans.