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Israel poisons poultry in bird flu battle

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Mar 20 (Reuters) Israel poisoned hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens as it sought today to contain an outbreak of the dangerous H5N1 strain of bird flu which has been spreading at an alarming rate.

The virus has rippled out from Asia to West Asia, Europe and Africa in recent months, with migratory birds seen as the main culprits in spreading bird flu.

Bird flu can infect people who come into close contact with infected poultry and has killed at least 98 people since late 2003.

Experts fear the virus will mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die and which could cripple the global economy.

Europe began discussing the possibility of curbing poultry production to prop up prices.

Israel's neighbour Egypt said on Saturday that a 30-year-old woman had died of bird flu, the country's first reported death from the virus.

The woman was from Qaloubiyah province, about 40 km north of Cairo. Egypt said yesterday that a man from same area suspected of having the virus had recovered.

Bird flu has flared anew in Asia in recent days.

Malaysia reported a new outbreak of H5N1 among dead chickens in the northern state of Penang.

Six dead chickens were found in Seberang Prai, on the mainland side of a bridge that links the resort island of Penang, one of Malaysia's top tourist attractions.

The U.S. military in Afghanistan has provided some 50 protective suits for cull workers there. Afghanistan aims to start culling on Wednesday.

PROTECTING POULTRY INDUSTRY Health experts insist that there is no health risk from eating properly cooked eggs and poultry, but bird flu scares have depressed sales of poultry.

Europe should start cutting back on its production of chicks and hatching eggs as a first step to support poultry prices, the EU's farm chief today said.

The EU's main consumer countries have seen poultry prices fall by between 15 and 20 per cent in the last five months.

''What is desperately needed is to reduce production. A targeted approach on hatching eggs and chicks would, from my point of view, be the most practical approach,'' EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel told a news conference.

In Israel, birds were being given poisoned water and their carcasses were being buried in large pits. Four million doses of an H5N1 vaccine for chickens were expected to arrive from the Netherlands on Tuesday, the ministry said.

China defended its vaccination policy on Monday, saying its vaccines were the best in the world and that no healthy looking poultry had been founded infected with H5N1.

Bad vaccines for poultry can ''mask'' diseases. The vaccines protect birds, which often do not show symptoms, but do not guard against infection and the birds can shed the virus in their faeces.

The virus then spreads to more birds, mutates and can even jump species barriers, for example, into humans.

REUTERS SY KP2133

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