Germany says dead swans had H5N1 bird flu

Two dead swans in northern Germany have preliminarily tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, a government official said. If confirmed, it would be the country’s first case.

The swans were found on the island of Ruegen and regional agriculture ministry spokeswoman Iris Uellendahl said a preliminary test showed it was H5N1.

Samples from the birds were being taken to an EU laboratory in Britain for a definitive test, Uellendahl said. Poultry within 2 miles of where the dead swans were found would be tested, she said.

Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer ordered that domestic poultry be kept indoors from Friday, instead of February 20 as previously ordered. Germany initially had planned to order all birds indoors for at least two months starting on March 1.

Seehofer’s order that domestic birds be kept indoors is intended to prevent migrating wild fowl from possibly spreading the virus.

Authorities had issued the order after they determined there was a heightened risk following the discovery of H5N1 in dead swans in Italy and Greece – the first time the highly infectious strain had been detected in the 25-member EU.

H5N1 also has occurred in birds in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

The virus has killed at least 91 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation.

Almost all the human deaths have been linked to contact with infected poultry, but experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, possibly starting a human flu pandemic.

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