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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 20:23 GMT
German alarm over bird flu spread
German soldier disinfecting vehicles along the Baltic Sea
Troops are trying to curb the virus' spread along the Baltic coast
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has termed as "serious" an outbreak of bird flu in the north of the country, as the lethal virus widens its global reach.

Speaking during a visit to the affected Baltic Sea island of Ruegen, Mrs Merkel said her government would do everything in its power to contain bird flu.

German soldiers are being sent to the area to help contain the outbreak, and nearby poultry stocks have been culled.

The lethal H5N1 strain has killed at least 90 people since 2003.

France, India and Iran are the latest countries to report the presence of the virus in dead birds.

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

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

QUICK GUIDE

In other developments:

  • Bangladesh increases surveillance of its borders in an attempt to prevent the smuggling of live birds or poultry into the country

  • The authorities in Egypt close Cairo zoo after several of its birds died from bird flu.

First mainland cases

During the visit to Ruegen, Mrs Merkel also urged poultry farmers to make sure their birds were kept away from wildfowl.

Eighteen new cases of the virus have been confirmed on Ruegen, where Germany's first bird flu cases were reported last week.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The massive out break of bird flu in India is certain to ruin the economy of many poultry farms, which forms the vital backbone of the rural economy
Namakkal Govindan Krishnan, India

Till Backhaus, State Agriculture Minister for the region, said a cull had been ordered for chicken and ducks on Ruegen.

It is not yet known how many of the island's estimated 400,000 farm birds will be killed.

German troops trained in chemical and biological warfare have been sent to Ruegen to help disinfect people and vehicles leaving the island.

Shortly after Mrs Merkel's visit, scientists said they had found the first cases of the virus on the German mainland, in two dead birds.

Tests on people

France, Europe's biggest poultry producer, confirmed on Saturday the H5N1 strain of bird flu in a duck found dead last week in the east of the country.

French Agriculture Minister, Dominique Bussereau, had earlier ordered all domestic poultry to be either kept indoors or vaccinated.

Health Minister Xavier Bertrand has meanwhile tried to reassure consumers that poultry remains safe to eat, stressing that the infection has not been found in poultry or humans in the country.

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.

In western India, the H5N1 strain was found among thousands of dead chickens at a farm, and health officials are testing eight people for possible infection.

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

More than 500,000 chickens near the farm in the western state of Maharashtra are being culled.

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




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