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German cat dies of bird flu, virus spreads

          BIRD flu fears have heightened in Europe after a cat died of the disease in Germany, the first time the virus has been found in a mammal on the continent.
The German announcement on Tuesday was the latest worrying development as bird flu sweeps past hastily erected protective measures in large parts of the world.
The dead cat was found on the Baltic island of Ruegen, where the highly pathogenic form of H5N1 bird flu was detected earlier this month, said Germany's national veterinary laboratory, the Friedrich Loeffler Institute.
More tests were being carried out to determine if the cat had the H5N1 strain which can kill humans. "It has long been known from Asia that cats can be infected if they eat infected birds," said laboratory chief Thomas Mettenleiter.
The H5N1 strain of the virus has been detected in a leopard, tigers, civet cats and two domestic cats in Thailand. But the World Health Organization said in 2004 that the infection of cats was unlikely to increase the risks to humans.
Experts fear that H5N1, which has killed more than 90 people since 2003, mainly in Asia, may mutate into a form that can pass between humans, launching a pandemic that could kill millions.
In the bird population, the disease continues its spread across Europe and Africa.
France began vaccinating 700,000 domestic ducks and geese on farms after it announced at the weekend the first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in a European Union poultry farm.
The commercial repercussions of the French outbreak were driven home Tuesday as the government announced that some 43 countries were now restricting or banning imports of poultry and poultry products from France.
Then, late Tuesday, the French agriculture ministry confirmed another case of H5N1 in a wild swan in the eastern Ain department, bringing to 18 the total number of wild swans and ducks known to be infected with the deadly flu strain.
Sweden for the first time identified ducks infected with an unidentified strain of bird flu, feared to be the H5N1 strain.
Elsewhere, H5N1 was detected for the first time in Bosnia, the southern German state of Bavaria and on a poultry farm in southwestern Russia where 103,000 birds were reported to have died in a week.
Britain said it was unlikely to escape the advance of the disease.
"I would anticipate that avian flu will arrive at some point in the UK," said British chief scientific advisor Professor David King, predicting that the disease would stay for at least five years.
"We are talking about the possibility of this disease being endemic here in the UK as it did in China. It is a long-term factor," he told the BBC.
But world experts fretted mostly about Africa, where many countries are ill-equipped to detect or impede the spread of the disease.
Ethiopian officials were testing some of the 6,000-plus chickens which died suddenly on a poultry farm in Endibir 175 kilometers (108 miles) southwest of Addis Ababa.
The government of Niger has confirmed its first cases of the H5N1 virus in two ducks and set up two protection zones to try to contain the outbreak, including the slaughtering of poultry in the immediate affected area.
In neighbouring Nigeria-where more than 300,000 infected fowl have already died or been slaughtered-H5N1 was detected in two more states in the north.
Cases of H5N1 have also been reported in Egypt.
Veterinarian experts from more than 50 countries meeting in Paris said that poor countries must be helped to contain the disease. "All countries in the world need to control the virus, irrespective of their national economies, as only one defaulting country can seriously endanger the rest of the planet," the World Organisation for Animal Health said at the end of its two-day gathering here.
Human deaths have already been recorded after the disease jumped from bird to human in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. Some 40 countries have now been hit by the H5N1 strain.
OIE director-general Bernard Vallat warned that bird flu was transforming from "epidemic to pandemic".
"With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, which are not hit by bird migrations from affected areas, the rest of the world is directly exposed... Various clues have raised the fear it could contaminate the American continent," he told France's Le Monde newspaper.


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