Sweden orders birds indoors over flu worries

Sweden said on Wednesday it was ordering poultry and other birds in captivity in the southern third of the country to be kept indoors because of recent outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu strain in Europe and the imminent migration season.

“We are increasing the level of protection now as a matter of precaution,” Karin Åhl, deputy head of the animal production department of the Board of Agriculture, said in a statement.

“The increased level of protection means that poultry must be kept indoors, and there will also be a ban on exhibitions, competitions and similar activities involving poultry and other birds in captivity,” the statement said.

However, ducks, geese and other game birds may still be kept outdoors as long as they are fenced in and fed and watered under a roof, it said.

The restrictions apply as of March 7.

“Birds start to migrate in March, and we do not know enough about the parts played by various migratory species in the spreading of bird flu,” Marianne Elvander, state epizootiologist at the National Veterinary Institute, said.

Recent cases of avian flu have been detected in Britain, Hungary and Russia.

“However, there are no reports on increased mortality among wild birds in Sweden, and the birds that have been tested so far in 2007 were all negative for the flu virus H5N1,” the Board of Agriculture said.

According to the latest World Health Organisation toll, the H5N1 strain of the virus that is deadly to fowl has killed 167 people worldwide since it emerged in 2003.