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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 February 2006, 06:19 GMT
France confirms bird flu strain
Car being disinfected near farm at Versailleux
The authorities are taking steps to prevent the virus spreading
France has confirmed the deadly bird flu virus H5N1 has been found on a turkey farm in the east of the country.

It is the first time a European Union farm has been infected. France has already had cases in two wild ducks.

About 400 of more than 11,000 birds at the farm have died in the past week, and the rest have been culled.

Despite assurances that cooked poultry is safe, sales in France have fallen by 30%, and Japan has announced an import ban with immediate effect.

France, Europe's largest poultry producer, is to start vaccinating millions of birds against bird flu to try to protect its 7bn euros ($8bn) a year poultry industry.

In other developments:

  • A 27-year-old woman becomes Indonesia's 20th human to die from bird flu, the health ministry there reports

  • Chickens at a poultry farm in Gujarat, India, develop bird flu but officials say it is not clear if they are carrying the H5N1 virus.

  • Slovakia confirms its first cases of H5N1 in a wild falcon and a grebe.

Poultry sales fall

"The H5N1 virus is confirmed as the cause of the death of turkey farmed in the Ain department," the ministry said in a statement.

This is the confirmation that the whole of the French poultry industry feared, says the BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Lyon.

The farm in Versailleux, where so many turkeys fell ill on Thursday, lay just 200 metres from the lake where the first case of bird flu among wild ducks in France was confirmed last weekend.

The farmer then appeared on French television demonstrating the precautions he was taking to prevent his turkeys, who were kept indoors, from catching the virus.

The latest developments will lead to questions about just how efficient the protective measures are, our correspondent says.

Pandemic risk

Farm at Versailleux where turkeys were found to have H5N1 bird flu
The outbreak at Versailleux is the first on a farm in the EU
The vaccination programme approved by the EU this week, initially opposed by several countries, will be limited to birds in specific high-risk regions.

Ducks and geese will be inoculated in three areas in the west and south-west thought to be at high risk, among them the coastal Landes region.

Poultry sales have plunged in Italy, Greece and France since the confirmation of H5N1 outbreaks.

Eight EU countries - Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia - have so far confirmed cases of the lethal H5N1 strain.

H5N1 has killed more than 90 people, mostly in Asia, since late 2003.

It can be caught by humans who handle infected birds, but is not yet known to have passed from one person to another.

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


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