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Ailing French Tourist Tests Negative for Bird Flu

France announced Thursday that a French tourist suspected of contracting bird flu in Thailand has tested negative. The government is still awaiting results for two others who may also have contracted the deadly virus.

The French health ministry said in a statement that further blood tests of a bird flu suspect by the Pasteur Institute in Paris came out negative. It said the 43-year-old man has another type of flu, and his health is improving. The results of tests for two other suspect cases are expected to be announced on Friday. All three were part of a tour group that had visited Thailand recently.

The Thai government has adamantly denied chances the French tourists could have contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.

If these tourists had contracted bird flu in Thailand, this would would be extremely worrying, health specialist Jean-Francois Le Moine told France Info radio Thursday.

Mr. Le Moine said the French tour group in Thailand consisted of less than two dozen people, so if three of them have acquired the virus, that would be a very high percentage. It would mean that the world community would have to drastically reduce its contact with Asia. But Mr. Le Moine said, based on information available to date, he doubted the French tourists had acquired bird flu.

Still, bird flu is a very real threat to Europe. Cases of birds carrying the virus have already been detected in several European countries, and Germany, Slovenia, Hungary and France, among others, are testing dead birds for signs of the virus.

The European Union is discussing ways to combat the advent of bird flu in the 25-member bloc. Individual nations are taking their own preventative measures. France, for example, is now confining free-range poultry in regions where they are most exposed to migrating birds. And the government announced this week it had earmarked roughly $200 million in new funds to fight the virus.

The World Health Organization, WHO, is also hosting an international conference in Geneva early next month to discuss ways of preparing for, and preventing, the spread of bird flu among birds and humans.