LONDON (AP) – Britain and Croatia confirmed cases of bird flu on Friday as countries around the world scrambled to put in place measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Croatia, the Agriculture Ministry said the country’s first cases of bird flu were confirmed in six swans found dead in a national park. British officials said a parrot that had been imported from South America died of bird flu in quarantine.

In both cases, authorities did not know if the birds had the deadly H5N1 strain that has devastated poultry stocks across Asia and killed 60 people in the last two years. The strain has recently been found in birds in Russia, Turkey and Romania.

The European Union said Friday it was preparing a ban on all poultry imports from Croatia. EU officials have previously ordered restrictions on bird markets and shows and urged nations to present a program of vaccination for zoo birds as part of measures to head off the spread of the disease.

The EU’s executive office said Croatian veterinary authorities had told them the H5 bird flu virus had been isolated in samples taken from wild swans found dead near a pond and a fish farm in the eastern part of the country.

About 1,500 migratory swans arrived in the area a few days ago and a fish farmer then found about 15 of them dead, the EU said. Tests carried out by Croatian experts on samples from six of the birds led to the discovery of the virus.

Croats had feared the arrival of bird flu in their country – a major migratory route for various bird species.

Britain’s chief veterinarian, Debby Reynolds, said Friday the diseased parrot, which had been imported from Suriname and held in a quarantine unit with a shipment of birds from Taiwan, had tested positive for a “highly pathogenic” form of bird flu.

Further tests were being carried out to see if the bird carried the H5N1 strain, which is easily transmitted between birds, but is hard for humans to contract. Experts are closely watching the disease, however, for fear it could mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans.

The EU, which has also taken measures to restrict the import of live birds and feathers from Russia following the spread of bird flu there, said its vets were continuing to carry out tests on samples from suspect birds found in Greece.

Norway on Friday joined other European countries in ordering poultry farmers to keep their flocks indoors as a precaution against the disease.

In Latin America, meanwhile, top health officials from six Andean nations made plans to prevent a pandemic as Venezuela closed its border with Colombia over concerns about a milder strain not fatal to humans.

Top regional health officials held a hastily arranged meeting Friday in Peru’s capital of Lima, downplaying the risk of bird flu hitting Latin America because it is largely isolated from migratory bird routes thought to be responsible for carrying the disease recently to Turkey and Romania.

But Peruvian Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti said the six nations did agree to negotiate as a bloc to obtain Tamiflu, the drug thought to be most effective in treating the disease in humans.

The Andean officials also agreed to establish a group to develop “a proposal to permit confronting jointly an eventual flu pandemic that would affect our region,” according to a statement.

Honduras and Panama also said Friday they were monitoring their borders, had prohibited importation of birds from affected nations and would keep an eye on migratory birds, which officials fear could carry the disease to the Americas from Asia.

AP-ES-10-21-05 2229EDT


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