February 16, 2006

Germany probably had bird flu for months: minister

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany probably had avian flu for some months before tests earlier this week confirmed that dead birds had carried the virus, a state agricultural minister said in a TV interview on Thursday.

Till Backhaus, from the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where the birds were found, said the affected mute swans were not migratory and tended to stick to one area.

"This is why I assume ... that the virus must have been introduced in autumn," Backhaus told public broadcaster ZDF.

German authorities said on Wednesday that two swans and a hawk found on the Baltic Sea island of Ruegen were infected with H5N1. Further tests should confirm later on Thursday whether it was the highly pathogenic strain transmittable to humans.

Local officials said on Wednesday some 100 dead swans had been spotted in the affected area.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and the southern state of Bavaria have already banned farmers from keeping poultry outdoors. A nationwide ban takes effect on Friday.