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Bird flu hits Sweden, seen spreading in EU poultry

by 5m Editor
28 February 2006, at 12:00am

SWEDEN - Avian flu, which has hit a French poultry farm, will probably spread to domestic flocks in other European states, experts said on Tuesday, as Sweden became the latest country to report an outbreak.

Bird flu hits Sweden, seen spreading in EU poultry - SWEDEN - Avian flu, which has hit a French poultry farm, will probably spread to domestic flocks in other European states, experts said on Tuesday, as Sweden became the latest country to report an outbreak.

Birds from East African neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia were being tested for the H5N1 bird flu strain, which can also infect humans, as the virus extends its rapid spread around the globe.

"The spread of the infection to domestic poultry in other European and neighboring countries is highly likely and may even be made worse by the arrival in Europe of possibly infected birds from Africa and the Middle East next spring," the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said.

France has already confirmed the first outbreak of the H5N1 virus at a farm in the European Union. The news has prompted some countries to ban French poultry, and fears over bird flu are hitting consumption in a number of countries. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cut its estimate for global poultry consumption by around 3 million tons to 81.8 million tons.

Cases in wild birds have appeared across Europe, the latest in Sweden which said on Tuesday it had detected its first cases of an "aggressive form of bird flu" -- though it was not yet confirmed as the deadly H5N1 strain -- in two wild ducks. "The virus has been found in wild birds in the region of Oskarshamn (on Sweden's southeast coast)," the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said it appeared to be the same strain as detected in Russia and China, both of which have been hit by outbreaks of H5N1, but that was still to be confirmed.

PANDEMIC FEARS

The H5N1 virus has been detected in around 20 new countries over the past month alone, crossing into Europe and Africa. The virus is endemic in birds across parts of Asia. It has led to the culling or deaths of some 200 million birds since late 2003.

Although essentially an animal disease, humans can contract the virus through direct contact with sick poultry. Bird flu is known to have killed at least 93 people. The real fear for humans is that the virus will mutate into a form which passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.

France said on Monday that 20 countries had imposed curbs on imports of its poultry after the outbreak at a turkey farm. Alex Thiermann, president of the standard-setting committee for the OIE, on Monday called poultry bans an overreaction.

"Countries have far exceeded what is science-based and they have further complicated the losses to the industry," Thiermann told the New-Fields' Bird Flu Summit, a meeting of avian influenza experts, in Alexandria, Virginia. Britain, a short ferry ride from France, was warned on Tuesday that bird flu could become firmly established on its shores and last up to five years.

"I would anticipate that avian flu will arrive at some point in the UK," the government's chief scientific adviser, Professor David King, told BBC news. "We also have to anticipate that it will be here for five years-plus. We are talking about the possibility of this disease being endemic here in the UK," he said.

Source: Reuters - 28th February 2006

5m Editor