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HEALTH

UK says two parrots had lethal flu

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LONDON, England -- The UK Government is to bring forward new regulations to combat the threat of a bird flu pandemic after it was revealed that a second parrot in quarantine probably died from the lethal strain of the disease.

Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told MPs on Wednesday that bird fairs, markets and shows would be banned except where a risk assessment shows they could go ahead safely.

The regulations would also give legal effect to recent legislation enabling ministers to instruct poultry keepers to keep birds indoors.

Beckett said her department now believed the H5N1 bird flu virus had probably killed two parrots in UK quarantine, and that the virus probably came via Taiwan.

Initial tests on 32 birds which died in quarantine before October 16 identified the H5 strain in some of them, she said.

Instructions have been issued for a case by case risk assessment of every bird released from quarantine, she added.

Beckett said it was not possible to say definitively where the H5N1 virus had originated in the two dead parrots.

"Our working hypothesis, taking account of the identification of the particular strain, is that the virus is most likely to have come via Taiwan, but it is important to keep an open mind about other possible sources and we are doing exactly that."

The birds in quarantine had been culled and staff who came into contact with them given anti-viral drugs.

Some birds had already died in quarantine before October 16 and while initial tests identified that H5 was present in some, the full circumstances of the deaths had not yet been established.

"The quarantine system is succeeding in providing the protection that it is in place to deliver," she said.

"That is not a reason for complacency. "We are taking these developments very seriously but they are not in themselves a cause for undue alarm.

"Avian flu does not at present transmit easily to humans."

Britain's disease-free status on avian flu remained unaffected, but ministers and officials must remain vigilant, she said.

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