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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 20:09 GMT
'No panic' over bird flu threat
Swans in Germany
Bird flu has been found in France and Germany
The public has been told not to panic over the threat of bird flu as the government has taken "all necessary measures", the defence secretary says.

John Reid was speaking after the H5N1 strain was found in birds in France, Iran and India.

"It hasn't arrived [in the UK]. Don't let's panic. And I'm sure that the government has got all necessary measures there," he said.

Tests on nine swans from the UK have so far proved negative.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was unable to confirm reports that a dead swan found in Great Abington, Cambridgeshire, was being tested for H5N1 at the Weybridge Laboratory.

'Heightened level of surveillance'

But a spokesman said nine swans had been sent for tests over the weekend after members of the public called a Defra helpline.

Two each were from Bury St Edmonds, Winchester and Preston, while individual birds were found in Shrewsbury, Thirsk and Hertfordshire.

"All the tests have so far been negative but testing continues," he added.

"Obviously we are at a heightened level of surveillance given the case in France."

Earlier, Mr Reid said it was not possible to have a vaccine against bird flu developed in advance.

The most you can do is prepare and have a type of pill you take which diminishes the symptoms after it arrives
John Reid
Defence Secretary

"The difficulty if bird flu ever transfers to humans - and it hasn't yet, so don't let's panic - if it does, up until the point that it does and mixes with human flu it isn't possible to have a vaccine in advance," Mr Reid told BBC News.

"The most you can do is prepare and have a type of pill you take which diminishes the symptoms after it arrives."

The Conservatives are calling for a contingency planning exercise to test the UK's response to avian flu to be brought forward from April.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said: "Given bird flu has been discovered in France, on our border... this should be brought forward. We should test our systems now.

"The other point I make is there needs to be much more public information here."

Sick birds

The H5N1 strain has killed dozens of people in Asia, the vast majority following very close contact with sick birds.

But some scientists fear it could mutate so that it could be passed easily from person to person.

Wild geese
Migrating birds are being monitored
Animal health minister Ben Bradshaw revealed that seven dead swans had tested negative in the last 24 hours.

He urged the public to report any dead birds they see but stressed that the risk of bird flu arriving in the UK was "still low".

The Medical Research Council said it was not inevitable that bird flu would arrive in the UK.

But chief executive Professor Colin Blakemore said: "The risk assessment suggests that certainly the probability is a little higher than we thought a few weeks ago."

Flu is not transmitted by eating poultry because human infection so far has been caused by "intimate, close contact" with infected chickens," he told ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme.

Boots training

The British Veterinary Association said surveillance of wild birds was being increased in response to the confirmed case in France.

Its President Dr Freda Scott Park told Radio 4's The World This Weekend: "We're going to push the surveillance levels of wild birds up again.

"And we're going to have to talk to people on a daily even an hourly basis just to see how the situation develops".

Chemist retailer Boots has revealed it is to train staff in recognising the human symptoms of avian flu to assist customers with their enquiries.

By law, anyone with 50 or more poultry has until 28 February to register on the Great Britain Poultry Register.

Virologist John Oxford said the UK was equipped to deal with an outbreak but should be doing more to prevent one, such as restricting access between free-range poultry and wild birds.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How France is dealing with the spread of bird flu



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