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Italian Authorities Meet on Bird Flu Cases


Italian veterinary officials were meeting Sunday, after the country's first confirmed cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus were discovered in wild swans in southern Italy.

Cases of the virus were confirmed on Saturday, following tests carried out in a laboratory in Padua.

The virus was found in five swans in the three southern Italian regions of Puglia, Calabria and Sicily. Italian Health Minister Francesco Storace said the swans had arrived from the Balkans, probably driven south by cold weather.

The cases in Italy, and others confirmed in northern Greece Saturday, mark the first time the highly infectious H5N1 strain of the virus has been detected within the European Union.

The Italian health minister said the outbreak posed no immediate threat to humans, as the virus has only affected wild birds. He said the situation was relatively safe for human health; less so for animal health. Storace announced a series of precautionary measures.

He said that in the three kilometers surrounding the area where the H5N1 virus was found, all farms, poultry and animals are being checked constantly with inspections using samples, which are taken to laboratories for tests.

An additional surveillance area has been established seven-kilometers around the outbreak area. Birds that are infected, or suspected of being infected, will be killed, and hunting wild birds has been banned in both zones.

In Greece, authorities said health experts were checking poultry on farms and homes in the region where infected swans were found outside the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece's second-largest city.

The European Union said that H5N1 also had been been found in wild swans in the Bulgarian wetland region of Vidin, close to the Romanian border.

Authorities in Greece and Bulgaria, as in Italy, have said no humans have been infected.

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