First case of H5N1 bird flu virus confirmed

Swans are at risk from bird flu - the second confirmed case in Switzerland was in a swan Keystone

Experts have confirmed that a dead duck found last week in Geneva was infected with the highly contagious H5N1 strain of bird flu.

This content was published on March 1, 2006 - 12:57

The European Union's reference laboratory in Britain is also to test a dead swan - the second case of bird flu in Switzerland.

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) in Weybridge confirmed that "a highly pathogenic avian influenza of H5N1 subtype" had been found in the duck.

The news comes after the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office announced earlier on Wednesday that a case of the H5 virus had been found in a dead swan, but that tests would be needed to confirm whether it was H5N1.

But the veterinary office said a suspected case of avian flu among poultry in Fribourg had turned out to be a false alarm. So far no domestic fowl in Switzerland have tested positive for the disease.

The new case was detected in the east of the country, close to the border with Germany. The German authorities have reported several cases of bird flu around Lake Constance, which borders Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

The veterinary office said protection and observation zones would be set up around both areas affected by bird flu. But it stressed that there was no danger to the local population.

As a precautionary measure, it advised people coming in contact with dead or sick birds not to touch them with their bare hands.

The samples from the dead swan will now be sent to Weybridge for further testing, it added. Results are expected in around a week.

Spreading worldwide

Bird flu has been spreading rapidly outside Switzerland's borders. In Germany, numerous cases have been reported, and on Tuesday a cat on the island of Rügen was found to have died from the virus.

Experts said the transmission of the disease to a mammal was unlikely to increase the risks to humans, since the cat caught it from a bird. But they warned that it was only a matter of time before poultry stocks started to become infected.

France has already confirmed an outbreak of the virus at a turkey farm, and intends to start vaccinating poultry stocks.

Culls are underway in several countries, including Niger, which became the second African countries to report cases of bird flu after neighbouring Nigeria.

Europe's poultry industry has been hard hit as consumers have stopped buying chicken. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said it expected demand for poultry to plummet further, depressing prices.

So far all cases of human infection have been contracted from handling birds. But experts fear that the virus will mutate into a form that can be passed from person to person, sparking a pandemic.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The highly pathogenic H5N1 virus was first isolated from a farmed goose in China in 1996.

A year later, the first cases of animal-to-human transmission were recorded in Hong Kong, resulting in six deaths.

In late 2005, the third wave of H5N1 reached eastern Europe on the backs of migrating birds, and turned up in Africa earlier this month.

In the past weeks, H5N1 has spread to Switzerland's neighbours France, Germany, Italy and Austria.

On February 26, the first suspected case was discovered in Geneva. Surveillance zones have been set up to monitor Lake Geneva and Lake Constance.

The first case of the deadly H5N1 strain was confirmed in a dead duck found in Geneva.

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