February 20, 2006

CORRECTED: India quarantines 6, bird flu spreads faster

(Please read in the 20th paragraph ... South Africa said it
would begin stockpiling supplies of Tamiflu to protect its
people. The Russian government said it planned to buy 100
million doses of bird vaccine to protect domestic fowl ...
instead of ... Russia and South Africa said they planned
stockpile Tamiflu to protect domestic fowl.)

A corrected repition follows.

By Krittivas Mukherjee

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India quarantined six people in hospital
on Monday and began a door-to-door search for anyone with fever
as authorities scrambled to contain the country's first
outbreak of bird flu.

In Europe, officials urged people to carry on eating
poultry meat despite outbreaks of the lethal H5N1 bird flu
strain, saying European Union authorities had the means
available to wipe out the disease.

A string of EU countries have now confirmed H5N1 in wild
birds, knocking consumer confidence in poultry meat --
especially chicken. But the EU farm chief rejected requests
from member states to support poultry prices saying the
situation had not yet become sufficiently severe.

"We have the measures and legislation for containment and
eradication of such diseases," EU Health and Consumer
Protection Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told journalists in

As bird flu continued its relentless march into the heart
of Europe from Asia, at least 11 nations worldwide reported
outbreaks over the past three weeks, an indication that the
virus, which has killed at least 92 people, is spreading

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday that
mutations in the H5N1 virus are seemingly making it more deadly
in chickens and more resistant in the environment but without
yet increasing the threat to humans.

The changes, which all viruses undergo, have affected
patterns of transmission amongst domestic poultry and wild
birds, with ducks, for example, developing the ability to pass
the virus on without getting ill.

"They have not, however, had any discernible impact on the
disease in humans, including its modes of transmission," the
WHO said in a statement posted on its Web site (www.who.int).

India's Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said the
situation was "under control" and there were no human cases of
avian flu in the country despite fears at the weekend that a
farmer had succumbed to the disease.

Officials in the remote district of Nandurbar in western
Maharashtra state launched door-to-door checks for people with
fever, and continued a mass cull of up to half a million birds.

Six people, including three young children, with flu-like
symptoms were hospitalized on Monday, joining a woman and a
child who were placed in an isolation ward the previous day.

"Eight people are in isolation. We are keeping our fingers
crossed," federal health secretary P.K. Hota told a news
conference in New Delhi.

In Germany, soldiers in biohazard suits were deployed to
prevent the spread of bird flu after H5N1 reached the mainland.

Sixty soldiers clad in disease protection suits and gas
masks disinfected vehicles on the Baltic island of Ruegen while
Tornado air force jets searched the coast for dead birds.

In Italy, 30,000 workers have been laid off in the poultry
industry as demand for chicken meat plunged by 70 percent.


Egyptian officials said bird flu had spread to new parts of
the country, adding to the devastation in a poultry industry
which provided a vital part of Egyptians' diet.

Malaysia reported its first case of H5N1 bird flu since
November 2004, with the death of 40 chickens in central
Selangor state last week. But Agriculture Minister Muhyiddin
Yassin said the public need not worry as no human was affected.

Bosnia confirmed its first cases of bird flu on Monday and
neighboring Croatia reported it second outbreak.

Hota said the government had stocked 100,000 courses of the
antiviral drug Tamiflu and planned to source another 50,000.

South Africa said it would begin stockpiling supplies of
Tamiflu to protect its people. The Russian government said it
planned to buy 100 million doses of bird vaccine to protect
domestic fowl.

France gave the West African nation of Niger equipment to
improve bird flu testing after H5N1 was confirmed in three more
states in neighboring Nigeria.

A Reuters photographer in India's Nandurbar said workers in
blue overalls, anti-viral masks and goggles were culling
chicken by wringing their necks or mixing chemicals in chicken

Television images showed dead birds being dumped in pits
covered up by heavy earthmovers. TV also reported hotels and
airlines dropping chicken and eggs from menus.

On Monday, Pakistan banned poultry from its eastern and
western neighbors India and Iran, which found the disease in
wild swans last week. Nepal also banned Indian poultry and
Bangladesh said it had ordered a high alert along its porous
border with India to prevent any poultry smuggling.

More than 200 million birds across Asia, parts of the
Middle East, Europe and Africa have died of the virus or been

So far, most victims have had contact with chickens, but
experts fear the virus might mutate into a strain easily passed
among people, causing a pandemic that could kill millions.

(Additional reporting by Adeel Halim in NANDURBAR, Sambit
Mohanty in SINGAPORE, Rina Chandran in MUMBAI, Kamil Zaheer in
NEW DELHI and Richard Waddington in GENEVA)