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UK confirms first deadly bird flu case: report

Ian MacKenzie / Reuters | April 6 2006

Tests have shown a wild Mute swan found dead in a Scottish coastal town had the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu -- Britain's first case of the disease, Sky television reported on Thursday.

Officials from the Scottish Department of Environment said they had not yet received the test results from the bird, found last week.

The discovery in the swan of the highly pathogenic strain blamed for 108 human deaths elsewhere since 2003 would make Britain the 14th country in the European Union to find the disease on its territory.

A laboratory in southern England was analyzing samples from the wild bird and the test results were expected to be made public later on Thursday.

Scotland's chief veterinary officer Charles Milne said it was not known whether the swan was from a local or migratory flock.

The partially eaten carcass of the swan was found in Fife, eastern Scotland, late on March 29 and received by the laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, on March 31, he added.

Milne said there was no indication of infections in domestic poultry, and no reason to believe the carcass had been partially eaten by a domestic animal.

Officials have set up a 3-km (1.8-mile) protection zone around where the swan was found.

Owners of birds within the zone have been told to take them indoors. A further 10-km surveillance zone is in force.

Government officials reviewed bird flu contingency plans at a London meeting on Thursday and concluded that "all relevant steps are being taken."

Bird flu remains essentially an animal disease, but can infect people who come into direct contact with infected birds.

Milne said properly prepared poultry and poultry products are entirely safe for human consumption.

"The risk to humans has not changed by the fact that we have found the virus in the UK," doctor Jim Robertson from the National Institutes for Biological Standards and Control, told a news conference in London.

However, Bob McCracken, past president of the British Veterinary Association, said contact between wild birds that may be infected and poultry should be kept to a minimum.

"We also have to work on the assumption that there is some spread among wild birds. "There is no doubt we are getting closer to the day when moving birds indoors will be necessary," he said.

Scientists said they were confident that surveillance for possible cases of the disease was good enough.

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