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Bird flu reaches Sweden

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11:59 CET+01:00
An aggressive bird flu virus likely to be H5N1 has reached Sweden, the government has announced. The virus was found in wild birds near Oskarshamn, in Småland in the south of the country.

The National Veterinary Institute has examined between 35 and 40 dead birds, of which two were found to have been carrying the virus.

The birds were tufted ducks, according to a press release from the Swedish Board of Agriculture. They were found in the area around Oskarshamn's nuclear power station.

The board said that it would enforce an observation zone in the area. Dead birds found in the area will be either sent for tests or destroyed. The aim is to stop the virus spreading to domestic birds.

Sweden's agriculture minister Ann-Christin Nykvist told a press conference on Tuesday that the discovery was "serious but not unexpected."

She said that the priority now was to collect dead birds and to protect domestic flocks.

Marianne Elvander of the National Veterinary Institute said that the birds were infected with "highly pathogenic H5 virus." She added that tests indicated it was indentical to virus found in birds in Russia, China and Africa, but said that it had not yet been possible to confirm that it was H5N1.

But, said Elvander, "all cases [of H5 virus] we have seen in recent times have been H5N1."

The final confirmation will come from tests at the European Reference Laboratory at Weybridge, Britain, "in a week or two".

The zone contains 'few' domestic birds, according to the board. Owners of poultry and other farmed or pet birds will be contacted during Tuesday, and will be subject to inspections and tests.

The board also said that extra security measures would be taken and restictions would be placed on trade in bird products from the area.

Ann-Christin Nykvist said she was not currently planning vaccination of Swedish birds.

"We have been doubtful with regard to vaccination, but the question could become relevant."

Leif Denneberg at the Swedish Board of Agriculture said there had been discussions with the military about any possible role they could play in searching for dead birds.

Swedish experts have been waiting for discoveries of dead birds with the aggressive strain of bird flu.

Yesterday Zsuzsanna Jakab, head of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said to TT yesterday that H5N1 was likely to break out in more European countries, but said she didn't perceive an increased risk to human health "even if there are more and more outbreaks in Europe in the future."

Sweden is the ninth country in the European Union to be hit by the lethal bird flu strain. H5N1 first reached Europe last year, when cases were confirmed in Turkey and Romania.

Four children died in eastern Turkey in January after contracting the virus. At least twelve people have been infected with H5N1 in Turkey.

The virus has spread across Europe and has been diagnosed in birds in Bosnia, Bulgaria, France, Greece, Italy, Croatia, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine, Hungary and Austria.

A number of EU countries have ordered people with domestic birds to keep them inside. demand for poultry has fallen across Europe, falling by 70 percent in Italy.

TT/The Local

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