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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 12:46 GMT
Deadly bird flu widens its reach
Veterinarian takes blood sample from duck in Villard Les Dombes, central France
France has taken steps to try to stop the virus reaching its poultry
The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has continued to spread, with India, France and Iran becoming the latest countries to confirm the presence of the virus.

In western India the strain was found among thousands of dead chickens at a farm, and health officials are testing eight people for possible infection.

France and Iran also reported their first H5N1 cases, following tests carried out on dead birds.

The strain has killed at least 90 people since it emerged in 2003.

It can be caught by humans who handle infected birds, but it is not yet known to have been passed between people.

Scientists have warned that if the virus mutates it could create a pandemic that would kill millions of people.


In India, H5N1 was found among the carcasses of about 50,000 chickens from a farm in western Maharashtra state.

No human cases had been detected so far, but tests were being carried out on several people.

One local poultry farmer who died on Friday was not found to be carrying the disease, preliminary results showed.

More than 500,000 chickens in the area are being culled.

A 3km (two-mile) exclusion zone has been established around the infected farm, and another one million chickens from nearby farms will be vaccinated.

In other developments:

  • Austria records two more cases of H5N1 bird flu near Vienna, bringing its number of cases to seven.

  • Indonesia confirms its 19th human death from the disease.

  • In Hong Kong, a dead magpie tests positive for the disease - the ninth infected bird to have been found in the territory in three weeks.

  • Egyptian authorities cull 10,000 birds at a chicken farm near Cairo, a day after Egypt reported its first cases of H5N1.

Farmers' fears

France's first H5N1 case was confirmed following tests on a dead duck near Lyon.

France - Europe's largest poultry producer and a crossroads for migrating birds - has been on high alert for bird flu for months.

As soon as a case was suspected, the French government ordered all fowl to be either vaccinated or confined indoors to protect them from infection.

But the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says French farmers already fear their livelihoods are under threat, even though no avian flu has been found in French poultry.

Confirmation of the deadly disease in France brings to seven the number of European countries infected by the H5N1 strain over the past week.

Earlier this week, the EU approved a series of measures to try to halt the spread of the virus, including the automatic creation of protection and surveillance zones around outbreaks in wild birds.

If the virus transfers from wild birds to poultry "buffer zones" that could cover an entire region could be established and the transport of poultry restricted within them.

In Iran, tests on more than 100 dead swans found in wetlands in the northern province of Gilan showed the presence of H5N1.

Despite the outbreak, Iranian veterinary chief Hossein Hassani said there was "no concern" about humans contracting the disease.

How France is dealing with the spread of bird flu


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