Britain sees first case of bird flu

LONDON – Britain confirmed its first case of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in a wild swan on Thursday, setting the stage for concerns the disease could spread across the Atlantic.

The swan was found in the Scottish town of Cellardyke, more than 450 miles north of London, according to Scotland’s chief veterinary officer, Charles Milne. Health officials said the case poses no serious risks to public health but the government began restricting poultry movement and implementing a 965-square-mile “wild bird risk area” around the site where the infected swan was found.

The deadly virus has not been found in domestic British poultry, although an imported parrot from Suriname died in quarantine from the strain last year.

At least 109 people have died from bird flu since a wave of outbreaks of the H5N1 strain swept through Asian poultry in late 2003. Virtually all were infected through contact with poultry. Officials said there was less of a risk in Britain where people have minimal contact with birds compared with Asia, and even less in sparsely populated Scotland.

“There is no reason for public health concern,” Britain’s chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds said.

She said that although bird flu can pass “very rarely and with difficulty” to humans, it requires “extremely close contact with infected birds, particularly feces.”

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