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Europe

Bird Flu Spreads on European Farms

A duck on a German poultry farm does not have the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus that can be dangerous for humans, officials said. But at the same time, reports surfaced of a case of the flu on a French turkey farm.

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Each day brings further reports of bird flu cases in Europe

Bird flu has been detected on a turkey farm in France, Europe's biggest poultry producer, officials said on Thursday, confirming the potentially deadly disease's sweep across the continent.

If confirmed, it would be the first time that a farm bird has been infected in the European Union. Earlier fears that the virus had spread to a farm in northern Germany were allayed when tests showed a duck did not have the H5N1 strain that poses a threat to humans.

Sweeping across Europe

The deadly H5N1 version of avian influenza was also reported for the first time in Slovakia, bringing to eight the number of European Union countries to be affected by the virus, while Greece confirmed seven more cases there.

In France, the suspected case of H5N1 was detected in a poultry farm in the east of the country near where two wild birds were earlier found dead with the infection, the agriculture ministry said. Samples from dead turkeys were sent to a French government laboratory, and results of tests should be known Friday, it added.

The suspected infection was at a farm with some 11,000 turkeys situated in the Ain department near Joyeux, the village where the first wild bird with the flu virus was found 10 days ago.

Vogelgrippe in Deutschland Gänse Stallpflicht

France is expected to announce whether it has found the deadly H5N1 strain on Friday

The European Commission -- which is tracking bird flu across the continent -- said it was informed by French authorities of a "strong suspicion of highly pathogenic avian influenza" on the farm.

In Germany, more than 100 wild birds have been infected and authorities are desperately fighting to stop poultry from catching the virus.

On Thursday, Germany's federal states announced that they planned to stock up on their supply of antiviral medications such as Tamiflu, so that they would be in a position to supply a fifth of the population in the case of a flu pandemic.

France: More cases certain

The French health ministry said there was "a strong chance that we will find very shortly in France as in Germany, many more cases of wild birds infected by the H5N1 virus."

Packungen des Medikaments Tamiflu des Schweizer Pharmakonzerns Roche

Germany's state leaders are planning to stock up on drugs such as Tamiflu

France is gearing up to protect its 6-billion-euro ($7 billion) poultry industry. Confronted by plunging demand, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin both insist it is safe to eat chicken and eggs.

Meeting the head of France's main farmers' union Thursday, Chirac said the government and authorities were "fully mobilized" to handle the situation.

The spread of the disease is worrying scientists and governments because of fears the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

So far the H5N1 virus has killed 92 people since 2003, mostly in Southeast Asia, China and Turkey, after they were in close contact with infected birds.

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