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Deadly H5N1 avian flu strikes poultry farm in UK

An outbreak of avian influenza among turkeys at a farm near Lowestoft, England, has been confirmed to be that of the deadly H5N1 strain, the European Commission said.

A 3-kilometer (1.8-mile) protection zone is in force around the farm owned by Bernard Matthews Holdings Ltd., where 2,500 turkeys out of 159,000 have died, the commission said in an e-mailed statement today. It's the European Union's second outbreak of the H5N1 virus this year, after geese in Hungary tested positive in January. The H5N1 virus has infected at least 270 people worldwide since 2003, killing 164 of them, according to January 29 figures from the WHO. „I urge keepers of birds to be vigilant, to take care if handling birds which appear to be unwell and to observe high levels of biosecurity,” said Fred Landeg, the UK's deputy chief veterinary officer, in an e-mailed statement. Diseased birds increase the risk of human infection and provide chances for H5N1, which has resurfaced in countries across Europe, Asia and Africa over the last two months, to mutate into a form that's as contagious to people as seasonal flu.

The UK environment ministry said there's currently no reason for public-health concern because the disease passes „very rarely and with difficulty” to humans and usually requires contact with bird feces. Results are expected later today of tests to determine if the virus strain is similar to that found in Asia, the environment ministry said. The outbreak is the first among poultry in the UK, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported. A dead swan found in Fife, Scotland, in April 2006 tested positive for the H5N1 virus. Since January 2006, countries including the US and Japan have pledged about $2.5 billion to fund efforts to monitor, manage and eradicate H5N1 and to prepare for a possible pandemic. The lethal strain of H5N1 was traced to a farmed goose in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in 1996. The virus was found in South Korea in December 2003, before spreading across eastern Asia the following year and to Eastern Europe in 2005. (Bloomberg)