MADRID, Spain (AP) – Spain has recorded its first case of H5N1 bird flu, discovered in a wild fowl in a marshland area near a northern city, the government said Friday.

Officials are working to determine where the sick bird came from and if the virus is similar to the strain that has proven lethal to humans in Asia and elsewhere, Agriculture Minister Elena Espinosa told a news conference.

She said a sample was sent to a British laboratory for DNA analysis, and a 2-mile protected zone area has been declared around the area outside the city of Vitoria where the bird – a great crested grebe – was found.

As bird flu spread to several European countries late last year, officials said it was only a matter of time before the disease made it to Spain, which is on the route of birds migrating north from Africa.

Preventive measures have included banning outdoor poultry farming within a 6-mile radius of marshlands where migratory birds tend to gather.

Bird flu has killed at least 131 people worldwide since it started ravaging Asian poultry in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

Most human cases have been linked to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that makes it more easily transmissible among humans.

To date, H5N1 has been detected in more than a dozen countries across Europe – from Britain to Russia, from Denmark to Turkey – mostly in wild birds.

The virus is believed to have spread from Asia to European and African countries via migratory birds as well as other trade and travel routes. No human H5N1 cases have yet been reported in Europe, although surveillance for the virus has been heightened significantly in recent months.

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