Bird flu gets a grip on Europe

The European Union has agreed to adopt new measures in an effort to control the hold bird flu appears have gained in the region.

The virus has now been confirmed in Slovenia while countries in the Middle East and Africa are on a high alert.

The EU plans include setting up a county or region-sized buffer zone around any outbreaks of the lethal virus afflicting poultry.

Birds in the safety zones would be kept under cover and strictly monitored, with the intention that disease-free areas are then created in the rest of the country affected.

The measures are seen as an attempt to calm consumer panic and protect the production of poultry in the region.

In Italy tests which have confirmed that eight wild swans found dead in the southern part of the country died of the H5N1 virus, the most virulent strain of bird flu, have thrown the country's poultry industry into a panic, with £376 million already said to have been lost.

Apparently experts in Switzerland are in the process of examining six dead birds amid fears that the deadly virus may have reached there.

Switzerland has stockpiled enough supplies of the anti-flu drug Tamiflu to treat a quarter of the population.

Meanwhile in Germany the bodies of scores of dead swans and other birds have been salvaged from the Baltic coast following confirmation that two swans and a hawk found earlier in the week on the island of Rügen were carrying the H5N1 strain.

Greece has also detected an additional two and Austria has also reported one more case.

Experts are convinced however that birds other than swans are spreading the H5N1 influenza to poultry.

Zsuzsanna Jakab, head of the EU's Stockholm-based European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, says there is concern that avian flu is now spreading within the European Union.

Hungary also is waiting on results from a specialist laboratory in Britain to determine whether the H5 virus detected in three dead wild swans earlier this week was the H5N1 strain.

In Iraq a bird flu alert has been posted in a province south of the capital Baghdad to stop people from transporting birds in and out of the area; an Iraqi girl died from the virus in January.

Despite the panic the H5N1 influenza virus remains predominantly a bird disease, and people catch it by handling sick or dead birds.

To date the disease has claimed over 90 lives and infected almost twice as many, but it has prompted the culling of more than 200 million birds across Asia, parts of the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

It is feared the virus could mutate and acquire the ability to pass from person to person, causing a pandemic that would kill millions.

As the virus is carried both by wild birds and in the poultry trade and experts believe culling is the most effective means of controlling an outbreak in birds.

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