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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 October 2005, 18:33 GMT 19:33 UK
EU bans imports of exotic birds
Birds on sale in Jakarta, Indonesia
The EU move should close one possible channel of infection
The European Union has banned imports of captive live birds - but not poultry - from other countries in an effort to curb the spread of bird flu.

The decision was backed by a committee of EU veterinarians, officials said.

Fears of infection arriving via pet birds rose after a parrot died of the H5N1 strain - potentially deadly to humans - while in quarantine in the UK.

As the ban was announced, German officials said two geese had tested positive for the flu in initial checks.

Further tests are to be carried out to confirm the virus in the migratory birds and to establish if it is the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has killed at least 60 people in Asia since 2003.

Stefan Brent, the German official in charge of the tests, insisted that it was "no sensational find" as some 5% of wild birds could be expected to carry some form of bird flu.

The EU ban meanwhile "covers captive live birds other than poultry imported for commercial purposes," the EU Commission statement said.

Over the last three months 232,000 wild birds were imported to the EU to be sold at pet stores and other outlets, spokesman Phillip Tod said.

New Asia cases

Indonesia has confirmed a fourth human death from bird flu, while China reported a new outbreak among poultry.

H5N1 BIRD FLU VIRUS
Principally an avian disease, first seen in humans in Hong Kong in 1997
Almost all human cases thought to be contracted from birds
Possible cases of human-to-human transmission in Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam, but none confirmed

The latest Indonesian victim was a 23-year-old man who died in Bogor, near Jakarta, the country's health ministry said.

The man died two days after being admitted to hospital in September, but has only just been diagnosed.

China, meanwhile, reported its second outbreak in less than a week, saying about 2,100 poultry had been infected with the H5N1 strain in Anhui province.

Top health officials from more than 30 nations, including all the Asian countries worst affected by the current outbreak, are meeting in Canada to discuss how to plan for a human influenza pandemic, which they say is inevitable.

There are fears that, while bird flu has shown no signs of passing easily between humans, it could combine with human influenza and kill many people worldwide.

European outbreaks

Europe has already banned imports of live birds and bird products from Turkey, Romania, the Greek island of Chios, Russia, Croatia and Thailand, where H5N1 has either been found or suspected.

The decision on the Croatian ban was taken on Tuesday.

A boy sprays disinfectant on chickens in Iraq
Iraq has already banned all imports of birds and bird products

In France, farmers were ordered to move poultry flocks indoors in regions thought to be vulnerable to infection by migrating wild birds.

Some exceptions will apply to the new EU ban, the Commission said.

Approved zoos will still be able to send birds to each other.

EU states "can allow no more than five birds accompanying their owner to enter from third countries, on condition they have undergone a 30-day quarantine in approved third countries," the Commission said.

European action to stem the spread of bird flu has been praised by the World Health Organization.

Gudjon Magnusson, a senior WHO official, told a gathering of European health officials in Copenhagen that Europe had implemented effective measures but could not afford to be complacent.

"The countries of Europe have an excellent chance to contain the virus," he said, noting that no human cases had been recorded.

On Monday Russia confirmed a new outbreak of H5N1 in the Tambov region south of Moscow, while another is suspected in Siberia.

BIRD FLU OUTBREAKS IN 2005 (H5N1 STRAIN)
Map showing locations of outbreaks of H5N1 strain of bird flu
The H5N1 strain remained largely in South-East Asia until this summer, when Russia and Kazakhstan both reported outbreaks
Scientists fear it may be carried by migrating birds to Europe and Africa but say it is hard to prove a direct link with bird migration
UK case discovered in quarantine, so disease-free status unaffected




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