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Bird flu claims first dog, continues spread

Health workers went door-to-door looking for people with bird flu symptoms in western India on Wednesday, while the virus killed a dog in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan.
/ Source: Reuters

Health workers went door-to-door looking for people with bird flu symptoms in western India on Wednesday, while the virus killed a dog in the former Soviet state of Azerbaijan.

Denmark became the latest European country to report a case of highly pathogenic bird flu in wild fowl, although it has yet to confirm it is the feared H5N1 strain that has killed around 100 people in Asia and the Middle East.

Neighboring Sweden said on Wednesday that tests had identified H5N1 in two wild ducks found on its east coast, confirming its first outbreak.

In recent weeks, bird flu has pushed deep into Europe, taken hold in Africa and flared anew in Asia, adding urgency to efforts to contain its spread and prevent a pandemic.

While it remains mostly a disease of poultry, bird flu can occasionally infect humans who have direct contact with sick birds.

Scientists fear it is only a matter of time before the H5N1 virus mutates into a form that passes easily among people, triggering a pandemic which could kill millions and cripple the global economy.

U.S. bank regulators on Wednesday advised financial institutions to have contingency plans in place for a pandemic.

Indian officials said they were checking if the latest outbreak -- which occurred in backyard poultry in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra state -- was the deadly H5N1 strain.

After its first outbreak last month in birds, also in Maharashtra, India tested more than 100 people for bird flu but all proved negative.

“We are not taking any chances and are straightaway going for a household check to see if there are any people with flu-like symptoms,” Vijay Satbir Singh, Maharashtra’s most senior health official, told Reuters.

The first outbreak resulted in the loss of millions of dollars to the poultry industry in India where it is estimated that more than half the 1.1 billion population eat chicken.

Azeri cases
Three young women who died in recent weeks in Azerbaijan, on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, are thought to be the latest human victims of the virus.

Azeri officials imposed quarantine measures in the two regions where the women came from. All but the main exits from infected villages were closed off, and cars were being disinfected. Domestic birds were being locked up to prevent contact with wild ones.

Azerbaijan said on Wednesday that bird flu had been detected in a stray dog found in the capital Baku on March 9.

There have been recent reports of H5N1 infections in Germany in cats and a marten, a weasel-like creature.

The World Health Organization says that only domestic poultry are known to have played a role in transmitting the virus to humans, but has also called for further investigation into the significance of infection in other mammals.

New countries
Afghanistan is virtually certain H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found in chickens, but is awaiting one final test for confirmation, a government official said on Wednesday.

The government said on Monday an H5 subtype bird flu virus was confirmed in three chickens in Kabul and two in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

The secretive Asian state of Myanmar has also just detected its first case of H5N1 and the virus appears to be spreading.

Thousands of chickens have been slaughtered on five more farms in central Myanmar after hundreds of birds died of bird flu-like symptoms, the U.N. food agency said on Wednesday.

The five farms are in the same area in Mandalay Division, 430 miles north of Yangon, where the country’s first outbreak of the H5N1 virus was found on two farms on March 8.