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A small outbreak of avian flu found in Turkish poultry has been confirmed as the deadly H5N1 strain, prompting EU health officials to warn of an impending pandemic.

Meanwhile, bird flu has also been confirmed in ducks in Romania, although the strain has yet to be identified, according to the European Commission. The EU has banned all bird-product and poultry imports from both countries.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu can jump the species barrier from birds to humans, and since 2003 it is known to have killed around 60 people in Asia. However, there is only one case where the virus is suspected of having been passed from one human to another, and even that report is unconfirmed.

Researchers fear that if the virus gains the ability to pass from person to person, it would spread through the world's population too quickly for suitable vaccines to be developed and distributed.

Although currently all cases of bird flu in humans have been found in people working with or near poultry, if someone infected with an ordinary influenza virus were to become infected with the H5N1 strain, it could mutate to spread more easily between people, researchers warn.

EU heath commissioner Markos Kyprianou has said that Europe should prepare for a possible flu pandemic.

"We have received now confirmation that the virus found in Turkey is an avian flu H5N1 virus," Kyprianou said, according to a Guardian report. "There is a direct relationship with viruses found in Russia, Mongolia and China."

He says countries should ensure vulnerable populations are vaccinated against flu this winter, and advises governments to stockpile anti-viral medication, if possible. ®

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