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New Scottish bird flu results return negative

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 8 (Reuters) Fourteen more birds found dead in Scotland did not die of bird flu, officials said today, two days after Britain confirmed the deadly H5N1 strain had reached its shores.

On Thursday, Scotland's chief veterinary officer Charles Milne said a Mute swan found in Cellardyke harbour in eastern Scotland had died from the virus.

Fourteen more birds, including 12 swans, were also found but officials said today they had all tested negative.

"We had nine results back on Friday and they were all negative and now we've been told the other five were clear too," a Scottish Executive spokeswoman said.

The Head of Veterinary Services for Scotland, Derick McIntosh, told reporters today that dead birds from 22 locations near the initial case had also been collected by officials for further testing.

Members of the public have been given a helpline to contact officials if they spot dead birds and McIntosh said he expected a large number of calls over the weekend.

"We believe we're ready for that," he said.

Some 70 extra members of staff have been brought in to cope with the extra work load, he added.

Officials have said the threat to humans is remote, despite the discovery of the deadly H5N1 strain in the carcass of the swan, found on March 29.

The Scottish Executive and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said laboratories in Scotland and England would work through the weekend to test the birds.

Scottish officials have announced measures to prevent the spread of the disease to domestic poultry farms as has happened in some European countries. Vets will test birds at all poultry farms within 3 km of the site where the swan was found.

The authorities also set up a 2,500 sq km "wild bird risk area" in Scotland.

"Everybody's wish is that this disease never gets any further, and never gets into our domestic poultry flocks," National Farmers Union President John Kinnaird said.

Scientists fear bird flu could become highly dangerous to humans if the virus mutates into a form easily passed on from one person to another, although it has not done so yet.

According to the World Health Organisation, the virus has killed 109 people out of at least 192 known human infections since 2003, almost all of them in Asia and involving people who had close contact with infected birds.

The virus has infected farm birds in France, Germany and several other European Union countries in recent months, but there has been no reported case of human infection in the EU.

Doctors say properly cooked poultry is safe, but farmers worry demand could plummet because of fear of the disease.

REUTERS SRS RK2102

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