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Russia confirms more cases of bird flu

Russia confirmed more bird flu cases on Monday, raising fears it could spread over Europe.
/ Source: Reuters

Russia confirmed more bird flu cases on Monday, raising fears it could spread over Europe, but a U.N. official said the best way to stop it was for donors to pay up and fight it where it began, among Asian fowl.

The latest case in Russia killed 12 hens at a private dacha in Tambov, 250 miles southeast of Moscow, last week. Authorities culled 53 ducks and hens and imposed a quarantine.

Tests confirmed it was the H5N1 avian flu strain which can infect humans, though not yet pass between them, officials said.

The European Union was poised to ban all imports of captive wild birds after a parrot died of H5N1 in quarantine in Britain.

More dead birds were found and taken for tests in Germany, Croatia, Hungary and Portugal as suspect cases multiplied.

But the numbers involved in Europe are still small and no humans there have been infected, unlike Asia where 61 people died after close contact with infected birds.

A World Health Organization official from Asia said Europe still had good prospects of stopping H5N1 reaching its tame bird population because it had reacted faster and more openly.

“There is an excellent chance for Europe to contain the Asian flu,” said Shigeru Omi.

The U.N. food agency’s head said the world must focus on Asia, and on stopping the virus passing between birds, as the best way to prevent the nightmare scenario of it mixing with a human strain to cause pandemic deadly flu.

“Too much time has gone by and even now we seem to focus more on addressing a possible pandemic which is spread from human to human,” said Jacques Diouf, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“It’s good to be ready should this happen. But for the time being we have 140 million birds killed or dying or have died because of avian influenza, with $10 billion of costs ... and it is still there (in Asia) that we are having contamination to human beings,” he told Reuters in an interview in Canada.

He said the FAO had helped develop a $175 million strategy to control H5N1, which surfaced in South Korea two years ago, and had received pledges of $30 million in aid -- but donors had not yet handed over a single cent.

U.S. health officials, meanwhile, said on Monday they feared counterfeiters would try to cash in on the demand for Tamiflu, one of the few drugs that can treat bird flu, and said they were putting into effect measures to prevent this.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would work to help researchers and companies develop new flu drugs that   might treat H5N1 and to work quickly to approve them.

Carried by migratory birds, H5N1 has now moved west as far as European Russia, Turkey and Romania.

“If, as we think, migratory birds will be one of the ways by which avian influenza is spreading around the world we can expect ... the problem in the Near East, in East and West Africa and naturally in North America and South America,” said Diouf.

Croatia said it would cull more poultry after finding two more dead wild swans suspected of having an avian flu strain in a rural area where flu was found last week. The strain has yet to be identified.

Several geese and seagulls found dead north of Lisbon, in a fishing port where migrating birds are common, were being tested for flu, Portugal said.

German officials said on Monday night that 25 geese and ducks had been found dead in a pond near the town of Neuwied, close to the former German capital Bonn. Tests would be carried out on Tuesday to determine whether they had died of bird flu.

Countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have taken steps to try to uer, director of public health and risk assessment at the European Commission, said confusion between different types of influenza was to blame for an exaggerated fear in Europe about the risks, which had reached hysteria.

Countries that have already suffered from flu outbreaks were redoubling their efforts to stop its return.

North Korea said mechanisms were in place to eliminate “any slight symptoms in time”, using its experience from an outbreak of a different strain earlier this year when more than 200,000 chickens were destroyed and 1.1 million poultry vaccinated.

A report that China would close its borders if it detected human-to-human transmission of bird flu unsettled Hong Kong stocks, with shares in hotels, retailers and airlines sliding.

An Australian firm said on Monday it was confident a vaccine it was testing in humans could protect against a pandemic form of the H5N1 virus unless it undergoes major genetic changes.

CSL Ltd, the world’s largest maker of blood plasma products, has begun human vaccine trials using different dosages and hopes to know results by February.