Dead swan found in Scotland had bird flu

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LONDON (AP) – Britain confirmed its first case of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in a wild swan on Thursday, setting the stage for concerns the disease could spread across the Atlantic.

The swan was found in the Scottish town of Cellardyke, more than 450 miles north of London, according to Scotland’s chief veterinary officer, Charles Milne. Health officials said the case poses no serious risks to public health but the government began restricting poultry movement and implementing a 965-square-mile “wild bird risk area” around the site where the infected swan was found.

The deadly virus has not been found in domestic British poultry, although an imported parrot from Suriname died in quarantine from the strain last year.

At least 109 people have died from bird flu since a wave of outbreaks of the H5N1 strain swept through Asian poultry in late 2003, the World Health Organization said Thursday. Virtually all were infected through contact with poultry.

Officials said there was less of a risk in Britain where people have minimal contact with birds compared to Asia, and even less in sparsely populated Scotland.

“There is no reason for public health concern,” Britain’s chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds said.

She said that although bird flu can pass “very rarely and with difficulty” to humans, it requires “extremely close contact with infected birds, particularly feces.”

Two swans found dead in the Scottish city of Glasgow, 400 miles north of London, are among 14 being tested for H5N1. However, preliminary tests indicate the birds died from diseases not related to bird flu, a Scottish parliament spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Poultry farmers within the risk area will be required to bring their flocks indoors, with around 260,000 birds expected to be moved.

Wildlife officials will increase surveillance of wild birds, Milne said, but there would be no mass vaccination of farmed birds to protect them against H5N1.

National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall urged the public to stay calm and said poultry was safe to consume.

“There are no implications for public health or consumers,” he said.

In Egypt, meanwhile, authorities said a 16-year-old girl had died of the H5N1 strain and that an 8-year-old boy had tested positive.

Health experts fear the H5N1 virus will eventually mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a global bird flu pandemic. However, the virus remains hard for humans to catch and most cases have been traced to direct contact with infected birds.

“The virus is going to spread in our own native birds and that’s the challenge ahead of us,” said Bob McCracken, former president of the British Veterinary Association.

“The situation is that the virus is there, and it will probably continue to circulate among the birds. It will spread through close contact, irrespective of species,” McCracken said. “There is one big question mark: Will the virus disappear from wild birds after a period of six months, or will it still be present after a period of six years? “

AP-ES-04-06-06 1748EDT

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