With Europe heightening its state of alert over the potentially deadly disease on Monday, the European Commission also said it was waiting for test results from a suspected outbreak in Romania - an EU candidate state as is Turkey - and could act later in the week.

Switzerland - which is not an EU member - also announced a ban on poultry imports from Turkey and Romania, while EU member Hungary joined Poland in unilaterally banning poultry imports from Romania.

The EU announcement came after authorities in the northwestern Turkish province of Balikesir slaughtered hundreds of birds overnight after avian flu was detected in the region.

About 3000 birds were gassed in Kiziksa, where the first case of bird flu in the country was confirmed at a turkey farm over the weekend and about 2000 birds were initially slaughtered, the NTV news channel reported.

But the Turkish health ministry downplayed the threat to human health. "The fact that bird flu has been seen in poultry does not mean that there is a worrying situation," the ministry said.

Analysis under way

Experts are analysing the strain of the virus found, but the EU admitted that some are far less dangerous than others.

"We should have confirmation of the nature of the virus found in Turkey on Wednesday," said EU commission spokesman Philip Tod.

The commission noted that the EU already has a ban on imports from Turkey of all other poultry products, with the exception of heat-treated meat, which kills the avian influenza virus.

Romania has started a flu
immunisation programme

Figures supplied by the commission indicated that the new ban will have little impact in practice: In 2004, no live poultry or fresh meat was imported from Turkey.

On Romania, the EU executive announced the dispatch of three experts after a suspected outbreak reported on Friday in a backyard flock of chickens and ducks in the Danube delta region.

Laboratory tests had proved inconclusive, it said, but further results should be available on Wednesday, with the final determination of the virus type expected on Friday.

Outside Europe

Meanwhile, Jordan has set up a team to deal with any possible outbreak in its country, a health ministry spokesman said.

"A national committee was set up to chart a plan to counter the disease should it surface in Jordan," Khaled Abu Rumman said, adding that the committee will hold its first meeting on Wednesday with experts from across the country.

So far no cases have been reported in Jordan or in the Middle East, Abu Rumman said.

"We felt the need to prepare after cases emerged in Turkey and since many migratory birds mate in our warm regions during winter," he added.