Bird flu and summer come together in Bavaria

Health officials in Germany say the deadly H5N1 virus has reappeared in the country.

The lethal virus has been found in the bodies of at least three dead birds in Bavaria, making them Germany's first confirmed cases this year.

Germany's top veterinary laboratory, the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, has confirmed that three wild birds, two swans and a goose, found in two lakes near Nuremberg have tested positive for the lethal strain of the virus and the body of at least one wild duck has also been confirmed to have some form of the virus.

The dead bodies of five more birds also found in the south are now being analysed to see if they also contain the deadly H5N1 virus.

Officials in Nuremburg say a federal epidemiological team will investigate the causes and background of the infection cases, while poultry farmers in the region have been told to confine all poultry birds to closed stalls.

A 21-day ban on bringing poultry, birds or poultry products in or out of the area, has been imposed and the region is now a quarantine zone.

The public have also been warned not to allow cats and dogs to roam freely in the quarantine zone.

The information has been sent to the European Commission which says the infected swans in Bavaria were the EU's first cases reported in wild birds in 2007, adding that H5N1 was detected in more than 700 wild birds in the EU in 2006.

To date some 13 European Union member states had confirmed cases of bird flu in 2006 - Germany, Austria, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Britain, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, France and Hungary.

Last week Czech veterinarians began culling several thousand turkeys on a farm after tests confirmed the country's first outbreak of a deadly form of bird flu in poultry.

The disease was discovered after nearly one-third of the 6,000 turkeys at the farm in the village of Tisova in the country's east suddenly died.

Nuremberg is 120 kilometres from the border with the Czech Republic.

As the virus continues to spread across southeast Asia, it has killed two people in Vietnam, the first deaths there since 2005.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) since 2003 the virus has killed almost 200 people in over 300 known cases and millions of birds have either died or been culled.

Although almost all cases have been through close contact with infected poultry, scientists fear the virus will ultimately mutate, as they often do, into a form easily transmissible between humans, which in turn could trigger a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions.

Pharmaceutical companies in the United States and Europe have been contributing to a global stockpile of the vaccine Tamiflu for the H5N1 strain.

So far there have been no deaths in Europe from the virus.

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