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U.N. sees Europe-wide bird flu threat

Story Highlights

• European Commission confirms UK bird flu outbreak is deadly H5N1 strain
• More than 2,000 turkeys killed by avian influenza at poultry farm in England
• H5N1 strain can be deadly to humans
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JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- An outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus strain detected on a British turkey farm is likely a precursor to other outbreaks in Europe, a U.N. bird flu expert said Sunday.

"I think we will have more in Europe in the next month or two," said David Nabarro, Senior U.N. Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza.

Over recent years such outbreaks have been seen between November and May as infected migrating wild birds come into contact with domesticated stocks, said Nabarro, who is attending a bird flu conference in Indonesia.

The outbreak on a farm near Lowestoft in Suffolk "is the highly pathogenic Asian strain" and is similar to the virus found in Hungary last month, a British government agency said Saturday. The outbreak was discovered Friday night after 2,500 turkeys died on the farm which was holding nearly 160,000 birds, officials said.

The remaining birds are being killed -- a process expected to take 36 hours, the agency said.

The farm is 120 miles northeast of central London.

Veterinary officials are enforcing a protection zone around the farm and taking other measures to deal with the issue.

But the British Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said "there is no reason for public health concern.

"Avian influenza is a disease of birds and whilst it can pass very rarely and with difficulty to humans, this requires extremely close contact with infected birds, particularly feces."

Nabarro, the U.N. official in charge of tracking bird flu outbreaks, said that in addition to the outbreaks in Britain and Hungary, officials have recently confirmed infections among domestic birds in Japan, and South Korea.

Speaking from Jakarta, Nabarro said British health officials are handling the outbreak "in the proper way, the way that's been required by the European Commission and I believe that under these circumstances, we would be unlucky if other farms in the vicinity get affected."

World Health Organization officials have confirmed 271 human cases and 165 deaths worldwide from the same strain of bird flu found in Britain. The latest case confirmed by laboratory tests was that of a 22-year-old deceased female from Lagos, Nigeria, WHO officials said Saturday.

"The initial positive test findings from a laboratory in Nigeria were confirmed by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in London," the WHO said in a statement. Tests of those who were in contact with the woman were negative for bird flu, the WHO said.

Bird flu cannot be contracted from eating "properly prepared" poultry, the WHO statement said.

"The H5N1 avian influenza virus is not transmitted to humans through properly prepared and cooked food (even if contaminated with the virus prior to cooking), according the WHO Web site. "However, in a few instances, cases have been linked to consumption of dishes made of raw contaminated poultry blood.

"Cases of human infection with H5N1 have frequently been linked to the home slaughter and subsequent handling of diseased or dead birds prior to cooking."

The entrance to the affected farm is disinfected.



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