H5N1 flu infects birds in Egypt, France, India

Feb 20, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The rapidly growing list of countries facing H5N1 avian influenza in birds has swelled to include Egypt, France, and India in the past 4 days, and the virus is suspected in Bosnia as well.

Egyptian officials first reported on Feb 17 that about 20 dead birds had tested positive for the virus, according to an Associated Press report that day. A United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization official said the virus had reached Cairo via an infected turkey taken to market there, and outbreaks had been found in backyard chickens and rooftop coops in Giza, across the Nile River from Cairo.

In addition, Egypt's health minister said the disease had been found in three provinces in the Nile delta and in Fayoum, a farming region southwest of Cairo, according to a Reuters report today.

The report said the sudden arrival and spread of the virus had caused widespread panic among Egyptians. The economic impact could be severe, because the poultry industry in Egypt supports 2.5 million to 3 million people, and Egyptians are heavily dependent on poultry for protein, according to UN officials quoted in the story.

In France, a wild duck found near Lyon tested positive for H5N1 on Feb 18, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report published today. France became the sixth European Union (EU) member to find the virus in birds, after Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Slovenia. (Infected birds have also been found in several non-EU countries in Europe, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine.)

India confirmed its first avian outbreak of H5N1 the same day as France, Feb 18. The virus was found in chickens in the western state of Maharashtra, where 50,000 birds died last week, according to an AFP report.

A Feb 19 Bloomberg News report said the virus had affected as many as 52 poultry farms at Nawapur in the northern part of the state, of which Mumbai is the capital. State officials said they had created 60 teams to destroy poultry on 48 farms in 19 villages, the story said.

About 20,000 of an estimated 500,000 birds near Nawapur were destroyed yesterday, according to an AFP report published today. The report said teams of inexperienced agricultural were struggling to slaughter the chickens, beating and strangling some.

One farmer said the government had promised to pay farmers the equivalent of US 80 cents per bird, little more than a third of the cost of raising them, AFP reported.

In Bosnia, tests confirmed an H5 virus in two wild swans, prompting the government to order the slaughter of about 4,400 poultry, according to an AFP report today. The swans were found at a lake near the town of Jajce in the central part of the Balkan country.

Samples from the swans were sent to a laboratory in Weybridge, England, to determine if the virus is H5N1, the story said.

In Hungary, two more wild swans tested positive for an H5 virus, AFP reported today. Samples will be sent to Weybridge for further testing. Hungarian authorities were still waiting for the results of further tests on swans that tested positive for an H5 virus last week, AFP reported.

Malaysia has confirmed its first poultry outbreak of H5N1 since late 2004, according to another AFP report published today. The story said tests were run after 40 chickens on a farm north of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, died last week.

The country's agriculture minister called the outbreak an "isolated case." He said authorities had destroyed all the chickens on nearby farms and had taken steps to ensure that no poultry were moved out of the area.

Malaysia had declared itself free of avian flu in January 2005, according to AFP.

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