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Indonesia hunts sick birds, France tests for H5N1

By Staff
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JAKARTA, Feb 24 (Reuters) Hundreds of Indonesians clad in protective gear fanned out across the capital today hunting for sick fowl and France confirmed the presence of a bird flu virus at a farm where thousands of turkeys died.

Bird flu has spread rapidly across Europe this month but so far it has affected only wild birds. Nigeria, Egypt and India have recently reported major outbreaks in poultry.

If confirmed as H5N1, the French case would mark the first time the virus had spread to domestic fowl in the European Union and could deal a further blow to France's already battered poultry industry, worth 6 billion euros a year.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, about 600 inspectors sprayed disinfectant in bird cages and chicken coops across the city where backyard chickens are common.

Bird flu has killed at least 19 people in Indonesia, the second highest toll in the world after Vietnam, and the H5N1 virus is now present in 26 of the country's 33 provinces. Many of the human cases have been in or around the capital.

H5N1 has accelerated its march across the globe, spreading to at least 16 more countries this month and the World Health Organisation believes migratory water fowl are one of the main carriers of the virus.

VIRUS RE-APPEARS IN CAMBODIA Slovakia today became the latest European country to confirm it had H5N1, the virus having been found in a wild falcon and a grebe, both of which died.

Two more German states, Schleswig-Holstein in the northwest and Baden Wuerttemberg in the southwest, reported bird flu cases in wild ducks.

Europe is preparing for more cases of H5N1 as the spring migration season approaches and new species, possibly already infected, arrive from Africa.

Cambodia said today bird flu had returned after the virus was found in dead ducks near the border with Vietnam.

Four people died of bird flu in Cambodia after it first arrived in late 2003 and its reappearance was the first in months in a region experts believed could generate a mutated virus that might trigger a global human pandemic.

H5N1 has killed at least 92 people out of 170 infected since 2003 but it remains hard for people to catch. Experts fear it is only a matter of time before it changes into a form that passes easily between humans.

Health experts say the more the virus spreads and infects poultry, the greater the chances of human infections that might lead to the feared mutated strain.

Britain said today it was ordering around 3.5 million doses of bird flu vaccine from manufacturers Baxter International Inc and Chiron Corp.

However, a new form of vaccine will have to be developed to counter any pandemic strain of the virus which eventually emerges.

REUTERS TM KN2124

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