Health officials permit Europeans eat raw eggs

European health officials end a three-day review Wednesday of the continent's readiness to contain a possible flu pandemic, as tests confirmed the deadly strain of bird flu had reached Croatia. World Health Organization and EU experts have been meeting in Copenhagen since Monday to analyze the threat of the bird flu virus mutating into a type that can be spread easily between humans.

At the start of the meeting, experts said Europe was better prepared to contain outbreaks of bird flu than Asia because of better resources and communication between countries.

The EU Commission announced Wednesday that the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia, was found in dead swans in Croatia. It was detected earlier in birds in Romania, Russia and Turkey, raising fears it could spread to the rest of Europe.

On Tuesday, the EU said it would ban the importation of exotic birds and impose stricter rules on the private ownership of parrots and other pet birds. Last weekend, a parrot imported from Suriname died in quarantine in Britain after contracting the H5N1 strain. It was believed to have been infected by other birds in quarantine.

German authorities on Wednesday ordered that all poultry be given only tap water to drink in addition to being kept indoors in efforts to prevent their coming into contact with infected migratory wild birds.

Officials said preliminary tests on wild geese found dead there had come back positive for bird flu, though they had died of poisoning, and further tests were being carried out to see if they carried H5N1.

Slovenia, Hungary and France were also testing birds found dead for signs of bird flu, underscoring the sensitivity of the issue even though officials have urged Europeans not to panic.

The European Commission assured people Wednesday that eating eggs would not put them at risk of contracting bird flu, the AP says.

"We don't think there is a risk of avian flu from the consumption of eggs whether raw or cooked," the commission's public health spokesman, Philip Tod, said.

The virus is hard for humans to contract, and most of the 62 people in Asia who have died from the disease since 2003 were poultry farmers directly infected by sick birds.


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