Afghans find H5 bird flu, strain not known

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KABUL, Mar 13 (Reuters) The H5 subtype of the bird flu virus has been found in poultry in Afghanistan but it was not yet known if it was the deadly H5N1 strain, the government and the United Nations said today.

The virus was found in three birds in the capital, Kabul, and two in the eastern province of Nangarhar, Azizullah Osmani, head of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary department told a news conference with UN officials.

The presence of the H5 subtype had been confirmed yesterday.

''H5 has been found in five samples in Afghanistan. The N sub-type, we're expecting that to be determined, possibly in a matter of hours,'' UN spokesman Adrian Edwards told the news conference.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said there was a high risk the virus was the deadly H5N1 strain that has killed at least 97 people in parts of Asia and the West Asia since 2003.

''Based on the current epizootic situation in the region, there is a high risk that the virus detected is H5N1,'' the FAO said.

The virus had been found in so-called backyard poultry, it said in a release.

Osmani said the movement of poultry between Nangarhar and Kabul had been banned.

A top-level meeting would be held on Monday to draw up a coordinated response, which would include quarantining areas where the birds were found and culling, although Afghanistan lacked basic equipment for the job, he said.

''Protective clothes are not available,'' he said.

Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans and trigger a pandemic that could kill millions.

REUTERS SI PM1554

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