EU confirms deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in Hungary, Austria

Tests confirmed H5N1 in three birds found dead in Hungary, making the country the seventh EU nation with an outbreak of the deadly strain of bird flu, officials said Tuesday.

Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, France and Slovenia also are grappling with H5N1 in wild birds, the European Commission said Tuesday. So far, no EU nations have reported bird flu in commercial stocks or in humans.

EU veterinary experts met in Brussels to discuss ways to keep bird flu from infecting domestic fowl as the lethal virus spreads across Europe. But EU governments failed to agree Tuesday on a plan to vaccinate commercial poultry.

Some countries, including France and the Netherlands, are pushing for flu vaccines for domestic poultry. But others, including Britain, say vaccinations are costly and difficult and provide no guarantee of immunity since the drugs only ward against the flu in general, not H5N1.

"The use of poultry vaccines to guard against the spread of H5N1 will inflict huge costs on poultry farmers, cause undue distress to poultry and, owing to the difficulties of catching free-range poultry, may not act as a blanket solution," Neil Parish, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament, said in Brussels on Tuesday.

H5N1 has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 92 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

In India, health workers were wrapping up a massive slaughter of chickens Tuesday.

Most human cases have been linked to contact with infected birds. But scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a human flu pandemic.

Farmers said consumers were shunning poultry amid the bird flu scare.

Germany reported 22 more cases of bird flu on the northern island of Ruegen, raising its total to 103.

Austria said Tuesday that an EU reference laboratory in Britain confirmed that a wild swan found dead last week had H5N1. Preliminary tests in Austria also indicate that three other swans and a duck discovered in the southern province of Styria also have bird flu, said Peter Wagner, the top veterinarian in the province, reports AP.


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