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Health and medicine

Bird flu breaks out in France, India

Associated Press
Published February 19, 2006

BOMBAY, India - India and France confirmed their first outbreak of the deadly strain of bird flu among fowl on Saturday, and an Indian official said authorities planned to cull a half-million birds to check the spread of the virus.

Tens of thousands of chickens have died from bird flu in recent weeks in western India, and people suffering from flulike symptoms in the region were to be tested for the infection, officials said.

Saturday's announcement came as other nations fought to contain outbreaks of the H5N1 strain, which has spread from Asia amid fears of a worldwide flu pandemic if the virus mutates into a form that is easily transmitted between humans. Bird flu has killed at least 91 people - most of them in Asia - since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

In western India, officials planned to begin slaughtering hundreds of thousands of birds in a 1.5-mile radius around the poultry farms in the town of Navapur where the confirmed cases were detected, said Anees Ahmed, the minister for animal husbandry in the state of Maharashtra.

"Around 500,000 birds will be killed," he said.

An unknown number of people in the area were reportedly suffering from flu and fever, and scientists were to start testing them on Sunday, said Milind Gore, deputy director of the National Institute of Virology in Pune.

At least 30,000 chickens have died in and around Navapur, a major poultry-farming region of Maharashtra, over the past two weeks, Ahmed said.

Indian chicken farmers were devastated by the announcement.

"All of us will have to start again from scratch, and I don't know how many of us will survive," said Ghulam Vhora, a member of the Navapur Poultry Farmers Association. "Most farmers cannot believe the news and are hoping the lab tests confirming bird flu are wrong."

France confirmed its first case of the H5N1 strain in a wild duck found dead in a bird reserve some 20 miles northeast of Lyon, France's third-largest city, the Agriculture Ministry said. All fowl have been ordered indoors or vaccinated there.

"There's a little bit of panic because we don't know what to do," said Madeleine Monnet, 60, in the town of Joyeux, where the diseased bird was discovered. "Here everybody has a little bit of fowl - chickens or ducks - for their personal consumption."

Countries from Europe to Asia were struggling with their outbreaks.

In Indonesia, another man died from the H5N1 virus, bringing the nation's death toll to 19, a Health Ministry official confirmed Saturday.

German and Austrian authorities ordered all poultry and fowl kept indoors, and in Germany, 28 wild birds were diagnosed with the deadly strain on the same northern island where the country's first cases were detected earlier this week.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:10:11]

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