WASHINGTON (AP) – Swans traveling along the Pacific flyway are the most likely bearers of the deadly bird flu virus among wild migratory birds but an even bigger worry is the prospect of the virus arriving by illegal animal trade, Interior Department officials said Wednesday.

“Swans are the starting point” for possibly finding the H5N1 bird flu virus, H. Dale Hall, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s director, said in an interview with The Associated Press. But, he added, “I am more concerned about the illegal smuggling.”

Patrick Leahy, the U.S. Geological Survey’s acting director, told the AP a variation of influenza in birds, H5N2, was found last year in two of 100 birds sampled in North Dakota. To prepare for this year, the agency sampled 1,318 nationally, including 719 in Alaska.

He said the first samples taken from migratory birds in Alaska that could be carrying the H5N1 virus will arrive for testing later this week at the USGS laboratory in Madison, Wisc.

Final testing will be done by the Agriculture Department in Ames, Iowa to determine whether highly pathogenic H5N1 has arrived in the United States.

The virus has spread from Asia to Africa and Europe, killing at least 124 people.

No one knows whether the virus will reach the United States or develop into a strain of deadly flu that can be transmitted easily by humans.

On the Net:

Fish and Wildlife: http://www.fws.gov

USGS: http://www.usgs.gov

AP-ES-05-24-06 1423EDT