February 23, 2006

India clears 11 of bird flu but French farm is hit

By Krittivas Mukherjee

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian authorities sealed off a western
town on Thursday to try to contain a spreading outbreak of bird
flu, but said 11 out of 12 people quarantined following a bird
flu outbreak in chickens tested negative for the virus.

In France, suspected H5N1 bird flu wiped out thousands of
turkeys at a farm in the east of the country. If confirmed, it
would be the first time the deadly strain has infected farm
birds in the European Union and could hammer France's already
battered 6 billion euros-a-year poultry industry, the biggest
in the bloc.

Test results were due on Friday.

There was a scare in Germany but a second test on a duck
showed it did not have H5N1 avian influenza, German officials

The H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed at least 92
people out of 170 infected since 2003 but which still mostly
affects birds, made its first appearance in Slovakia in a wild
falcon and a grebe.

Scientists in Australia said it would not be surprising if
birds had carried it, undetected, to their shores.

Egypt reported the virus had reached further into birds in
provinces in the south and west, and Greece said it had found
more cases in wild swans in the north of the country.


The rapid spread of H5N1 from Asia into the Middle East,
Africa and Europe has heightened fears of a human pandemic and
triggered sharp falls in poultry sales.

The Economic Community of West African States called for
international aid to help set up a regional fund to pay for
emergency action as they seek to prevent the spread of the
virus, found in poultry in Nigeria this month.

The World Health Organization plans to test samples from
four Nigerians possibly infected with the virus, including a
woman who died last week and three people who have recovered.

Experts fear that in Africa, where chickens live in
millions of homes, the virus could spread rapidly and largely
undetected due to a lack of health, veterinary and laboratory

They hold similar fears for India, where hundreds of
millions of people live in rural areas side-by-side with
livestock and domestic fowl.

So far the biggest risk seems to be for people who come
into direct contact with sick chickens, and in countries where
people personally care for their fowl.

There have been no confirmed human cases in India, but
authorities were making final tests of a 12th person
quarantined with suspected bird flu in Navapur, a remote town
in India's western Maharashtra state.


Authorities said they had culled more than 345,000 poultry
and were now sanitizing the area.

WHO expressed concern that India had not submitted virus
samples to its labs for additional testing.

"Testing has been undertaken at the National Institute of
Virology in Pune and the National Institute of Communicable
Diseases in Delhi," the WHO said in a statement posted on its
Web site late on Thursday.

"It was not clear if samples from a 27-year-old poultry
worker from Gujarat State, said to have died of respiratory
disease on 17 February, were among those tested," it added.

"In India, as in all countries experiencing their first
outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza, WHO
strongly recommends that patient samples be sent to a WHO
collaborating laboratory for diagnostic confirmation. Certainty
about the status of human cases in a newly affected country is
important for accurate risk assessment."

WHO said it also wanted to test the virus to make sure it
had not mutated. WHO fears that the virus could evolve into a
form that spreads easily from person to person, sparking a

In Europe, the most immediate concerns are of the virus
hitting domestic poultry. Mass culling would devastate the EU's
20-billion-euro ($24 billion) poultry and egg industry.

Poultry producers in France have estimated a 30-percent
fall in sales due to bird flu has cost them 130 million euros
($155 million) since November and the government announced the
sector would receive 52 million euros ($62 million) in aid to
deal with the crisis.

Health experts say H5N1 will almost certainly become
entrenched in flocks around the world eventually.

Europe is preparing for more cases of H5N1 as the spring
migration season approaches and new species, possibly already
infected, arrive from Africa, EU Health and Consumer Protection
Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told Reuters.

"It's a concern, because now we have the virus in Africa.
Spring migration of birds coming from the south to Europe poses
a risk," Kyprianou said.

(Reporting by Kamil Zaheer in New Delhi, Michael Perry in
Sydney, Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Paule Bonjean in Paris,
Jeremy Smith in Brussels)