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12 new bird flu cases in Romania

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BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) -- An additional 12 birds have tested positive in Romania for the deadly strain of bird flu that has already killed at least 60 people in Asia, Minister of Agriculture Ghearghe Flutur said Tuesday.

The H5N1 strain of the virus was found in a dozen dead swans near the Ukrainian border. Earlier Romania cases were discovered in the counties of Tuleca and Constanza, near the Black Sea.

Authorities have killed thousands of birds, including ducks and swans, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

In the villages of Ceamurlia and Maliuc, in Tuleca County, almost 60 birds have died from avian flu, authorities said.

Live birds are no longer available for sale in markets, and approval from a veterinarian is needed to sell even slaughtered chickens.

Officials said they had vaccinated 100,000 Romanians against garden-variety strains of influenza in an attempt to limit the possibility that the virus that causes bird flu might, through "reassortment" with the more common form, gain the ability to spread easily from person to person.

Attempts to stem the spread may be for naught, since the existence of H5N1 bird flu in Romania bolsters the theory that the virus may be spread by migratory birds.

Despite the fact that 117 people in Asia have been infected by the strain and 60 have died, H5N1 in its current form does not easily infect humans. However, officials fear it could mutate into a more easily transmissible strain and result in a global pandemic.

The Romanian government confirmed the strain's presence on Saturday.

Before the confirmation, the EU commission had been working under the assumption that it was the highly pathogenic type of bird flu, and took all necessary protective measures to halt its spread, including banning the export of live birds and poultry products from Romania, Soltyk said.

It had done the same for Turkey after bird flu was detected there last weekend and confirmed Thursday to be H5N1.

European Union officials said Monday that bird flu had been found on one of the Greek isles and tests were being conducted to determine if it is the deadly H5N1 strain.

The European Commission said Greek veterinary authorities had informed it of a suspected case of avian influenza on the island of Inousses, based on a serological test that proved positive for the presence of avian influenza H5 antibodies.

The samples were in the process of being sent for confirmation and virus isolation tests at the Greek national reference laboratory in Thessaloniki, and the European Commission said it had requested that samples also be sent immediately to the Community Reference Laboratory in Weybridge, England, where sample from Turkey was tested and confirmed.

The commission said it is preparing to ban the movement of live poultry and poultry products from the infected area in the Chios region.

The EU said its ban would be adopted as soon as the Greek national reference laboratory confirmed the results, expected Tuesday.

The EU said following consultations between the commission and the Greek Ministry of Agriculture, Greek authorities had agreed to restrict the dispatch of live poultry and poultry products as a precautionary measure.

Monday afternoon the mayor of the island of Chios said a farmer on nearby Inousses who raises turkeys and chickens noted on Thursday that some of his birds had died.

Two state veterinarians were sent in to look at nine turkeys. They also took blood samples from some chickens.

The mayor said a state lab in Athens confirmed Monday afternoon that one of the nine samples proved positive for an H5-type virus.

Bird flu normally spreads to humans through contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Web site. However, it is thought that a few cases of human-to-human spread of H5N1 have occurred.

Journalist Nicoleta Dragusin in Bucharest contributed to this report

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