Bird flu spreads in Europe

Bird flu has been detected in migratory birds in Italy, Greece and Bulgaria, it was revealed today.

Tests showed that dead swans found in all three countries carried the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus. None of the latest reports indicated humans had caught the disease.

Italy’s health minister said it was the first time the H5N1 strain has been detected in Italy.

The virus was found in swans in three Italian regions: Puglia and Calabria in southern Italy, and Sicily, said Health Minister Francesco Storace. The swans had arrived from the Balkans, he said.

“It’s certain that the virus has reached Italy,” Storace told reporters after briefing the Cabinet on the situation.

Storace said there were no human cases of infection reported, and sought to reassure Italians that the outbreak posed no immediate threat to humans and only affected birds.

“It’s a relatively safe situation for human health, less so for animal health,” said Storace.

He did not give the exact number of the birds that had been infected by the virus. But he said most of the 17 swans who were found dead were likely infected with H5N1.

Testing was conducted in at a laboratory in the northern city of Padua, and more analyses were underway, Storace said. Further results were expected as early as this afternoon.

The ministry was looking at taking precautions in the areas where the virus was detected, such as limiting movement of animals

Meanwhile, Greece’s agriculture minister confirmed that tests conducted in a British laboratory on samples from three swans in northern Greece revealed that they had died of the H5N1 strain of the virus

Samples from the dead swans – found near the northern city of Thessaloniki - were sent Thursday to the EU reference laboratory in Weybridge, Surrey, to determine whether the birds had the lethal H5N1 strain.

And the European Union confirmed that bird flu found in wild swans in Bulgaria was caused by the deadly H5N1 virus.

“The disease was detected in wild swans in the Bulgarian wetland region of Vidin, close to the Romanian border, last week,” the European Commission said in a statement. It said tests conducted by the Weybridge laboratory have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 virus.

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