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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 March, 2005, 08:05 GMT
'Bird flu threat' from feathers
Duck vendors in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam
Bird flu has killed more than 40 people in Asia since 2003
Poultry feathers being imported from China could carry the bird flu virus, a microbiologist has warned.

Poultry meat from the country has been banned, but BBC Radio 4's Farming Today reported that duck, chicken and turkey feathers were still being imported.

Professor Hugh Pennington said the virus could survive in faecal material on the feathers, some of which are used in making pillows.

Avian flu has killed more than 40 people in Asia since 2003.

"The risk is a real one," Prof Pennington told the programme about poultry feathers.

"I think there is a case for looking very seriously at feather imports and saying, well, is it wise to be bringing in feathers from countries where this bird flu virus is now pretty well out of control?

"It [the virus] can survive and one doesn't need very much of that virus to be infectious to birds," he said.

"It may not be very easy for the feathers to be infectious to people but they could certainly be infectious to birds, and of course not just chickens but pretty well any species of birds."


The World Health Organisation has warned that a new strain could develop that can spread from human to human.

The government earlier this week announced preparations to deal with the threat of a flu pandemic.

It is to stockpile 14.6 million doses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, without which it says an outbreak could kill 50,000 in the UK.

But experts have warned that a vaccine could be no use in the short-term, as the exact strain of virus would not be known until the pandemic struck.

The risks outlined by Professor Pennington

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