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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 October 2005, 07:02 GMT 08:02 UK
Avian flu found in parrot in UK
Birds across Europe are being kept indoors as a precaution
A parrot that died in quarantine in the UK has tested positive for avian flu, the government has said.

A highly pathogenic H5 strain of the disease has been found, but it is not known if it is the H5N1 variant which has killed at least 60 people in Asia.

Because the bird - imported from south America - was in quarantine, the UK's disease-free status is not affected.

Meanwhile, poultry imports from Croatia are being banned by the EU after the virus was found in six swans there.

Disease-free status

So far bird flu - in some cases the H5N1 strain - has been found in Europe in Romania, Greece and most recently, Croatia, as well as in a nearby area of Turkey.

It is thought it was carried to those countries by wild birds migrating from Asia.

The parrot - which was being held in a bio-secure unit at an undisclosed location - is the first confirmed case of avian flu in Britain since 1992.

UK chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds said: "The confirmed case does not affect the UK's official disease free status because the disease has been identified in imported birds during quarantine."

The bird was part of a mixed consignment of 148 parrots and "soft bills" that arrived on 16 September.

They were also in quarantine with a consignment of 216 birds from Taiwan.

We have had similar incidents in the past where disease has been discovered but successfully contained as a result of our quarantine arrangements
Debby Reynolds, chief veterinary officer

All the birds in the quarantine unit are now being culled, said the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and those who had come into contact with them are being given antiviral treatment as a precautionary measure.

Ms Reynolds said the incident had shown the importance of the UK's quarantine system.

"We have had similar incidents in the past where disease has been discovered but successfully contained as a result of our quarantine arrangements," she said.

'No mutation'

Aberdeen University microbiologist and bird flu expert Professor Hugh told BBC News 24 Britons should not be alarmed by the discovery.

This mutation is much more likely still to happen in the Far East , maybe we'll have a bit of time, a bit of warning, to get the contingency plans working
Professor Hugh Pennington
Bird flu expert

"The bird flu has being doing the rounds of the Far East for about 10 years and it hasn't mutated yet into the form that we really fear - the form that could infect people on any scale at all - and it may never do that," he said.

"I think at the moment the fact that the bird flu is in Europe doesn't actually change it because this is a small number of cases even if you take all the European ones together.

"If this change is going to happen - this mutation is much more likely still to happen in the Far East, maybe we'll have a bit of time, a bit of warning, to get the contingency plans working."

Professor Pennington added that a slaughter policy was the most efficient way of dealing with any outbreak but it would be better to avoid it by clamping down on bird smuggling.

Europe-wide action

The British case comes as Croatia confirmed positive results for the H5 type of avian flu on Friday, after 12 swans were found dead near a pond in the village of Zdenci, eastern Croatia.

It is not yet clear whether the remaining six have been tested for the virus.

In a statement, the EU executive said the commission was preparing a decision "to ban the import of live poultry and poultry products from Croatia which will be adopted by urgent procedure on Monday".

The Croatian government has assured the commission it would not dispatch any poultry to the EU.

A new case of bird flu was also detected in Romania on Friday.

The H5 bird flu virus was found in a heron near the border with Moldova - the H5N1 strain has already been found in two locations in Romania's Danube delta.

Across Europe, many countries are taking steps to counter the spread of the virus.

The Swiss government, following similar action in Austria and Germany, has ordered poultry farmers to keep all their birds indoors. The ban on free-range farming will last until the middle of December.

European Union health ministers have been holding a second day of meetings to discuss their response to the disease.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The significance of the discovery of bird flu in the UK



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