Bird flu faults in death of pigeons in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is investigating whether pigeons found dead in the capital and the eastern Somali region may have succumbed to bird flu, an Agriculture Ministry official said Friday. Regional authorities reported that hundreds of dead pigeons were discovered around drinking wells in eastern Ethiopia and at two locations in the capital, Addis Ababa, United Nations officials said.

"It is difficult to rule out avian influenza until we have completed the tests, but it is not likely," said Dr. Seleshi Zewdie, head of the animal health department at the Agriculture Ministry. "Before we can rule out avian flu we have to complete our investigations." Results are expected later next week, but Ethiopia needs proper testing kits before all examinations can be completed, he said.

The migratory birds that are believed to have brought the H5N1 strain of bird flu to Europe are headed across the Middle East and into Africa. The H5N1 outbreak began in 2003 in Asia, where it has devastated flocks and infected humans, killing at least 68 people. Experts worry that bird flu outbreaks in Africa, with its strained infrastructure, are likely to be poorly reported and poorly managed. The experts want to keep a close eye on H5N1, fearing it could mutate into a virus that can be passed easily to and between humans and trigger a deadly global human flu epidemic.

Experts believe East Africa's Rift Valley countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are at high risk for outbreaks because millions of migratory birds fly into those countries to breed and rest after migrating south during the European winter. Experts believe most of the birds will reach the region and settle into their lakes and swamplands in December.

Ethiopia's state news media, meanwhile, announced late Thursday that the country was extending a ban on the import of all poultry products. On Oct. 26, Ethiopia banned imports of poultry and poultry products to guard against the flu risk. It also established a national task force with technical committees, reports the AP. N.U.

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