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Bird flu menace poised to cross the Channel

Europe up the swanny - UK vets testing dead birds

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It has been a big weekend for bird flu, which has reached Britain's nearest neighbour and may have leapt the channel.

The BBC reports that nine dead swans from across the UK are being examined by government vets. Swans are thought to have brought the virus to Germany and Slovenia.

In France, authorities confirmed a dead duck had the disease. The French agriculture ministry has responded by ordering all poultry indoors, and embarking on a massive vaccination programme around Lyon, where the offending dead duck was found. Further afield in India, 200 vets have travelled to the Maharashtra province to supervise a mass cull after the disease killed 50,000 birds at one chicken farm.

Egypt also confirmed its first cases on Friday.

Britain's National Farmer's Union has said confining all chickens to quarters would be a “massive overreaction” at this stage, despite a similar preemptive move by the Netherlands. The UK government has tried to allay fears, saying both the agricultural and public health plans it has in place are adequate, and monitoring procedures are functioning well.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 91 people worldwide since 2003, according to the WHO. A feared mutation allowing it to pass from human to human is yet to be detected. A similar bird-derived virus that made the evolutionary leap to direct transmission in humans is estimated to have killed up to 40m people worldwide in 1918. ®

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