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Albania finds second H5N1 bird flu case in poultry

Written by: Staff
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TIRANA, Mar 23 (Reuters) Albania found its second case of H5N1 bird flu in poultry near the capital, but there was no evidence the virus had made people ill despite some farmers eaten infected birds, officials today said.

The Agriculture Ministry said tests at a British laboratory at Weybridge confirmed H5N1 in four dead chickens in the Peze Helmes area, some 10 km west of the capital Tirana.

Ministry spokesman Rexhep Shahu said teams were working to cull some 600 chickens and disinfect the coops in the area.

''Tests have found no sign of the virus in people,'' he said.

Albania confirmed its first case of H5N1 three weeks ago in a chicken in the southern Sarande region, near the Greek border.

The villagers in Peze Helmes said they had eaten some of their chickens recently, thinking they died of other causes.

''We don't know what to do, we see the Prime Minister on television, chicken leg in hand, inviting us to eat them,'' one villager said. ''Now we are told to kill them. Why? Were the ones he ate better ones?'' The bird flu virus has spread rapidly since the beginning of February, and is now present in most European countries.

Although essentially an animal disease, bird flu has killed more than 100 people since 2003.

The vast majority of human cases have become infected by direct contact with infected live or dead poultry. The World Health Organisation says there is no evidence that the disease can be transmitted to humans through properly cooked food.

Scientists fear it is only a matter of time before it mutates into a form that passes easily among people, triggering a pandemic in which millions could die.

A local vet said many households slaughtered the birds and ate them despite official advice to bury them and disinfect the area. All residents of the village had blood samples taken.

The bird flu scare has caused Albania sales of chicken meat to fall by 80 per cent. A truck with covered number plates dumped 80 chickens in a ditch on the road by the road to Albania's international airport on Wednesday.

REUTERS DKS BST1921

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