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Britain Culls Tens of Thousands of Turkeys Infected With Bird Flu Virus

British health official are acting quickly to contain an outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu. It is the first case of the deadly form of the disease to be detected in Britain. Tom Rivers reports for VOA from London, scientists say the same form of the virus was found in Hungary last month.

Authorities are culling 160,000 turkeys on a commercial farm, about 210 kilometers northeast of London.

Confirmation came Saturday that around 2,500 turkeys in one shed had died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu on the farm near Lowestoft.

A three kilometer exclusion zone around the farm has been established, along with a wider restricted travel area around that.

Local trading standards officer Jill Korwin says that step is absolutely crucial.

"The whole emphasis is on preventing the spread of the disease and also monitoring the area over which the disease could be. And, we have got a lot of people on the ground. ... Thing are changing very quickly," Korwin says.

Local government official Joanna Spicer says poultry farmers in the immediate area are being urged to remain vigilant in the care of their birds.

"Take extra precautions now. Make sure their food is covered, that their water is changed, that they are clean and there is no vermin, and keep them quite separate from wild birds," Spicer says.

Those people working on the disposal of the culled birds have been given anti-viral medication as a precaution. But Britain's Health Protection Agency chief, Pat Troop, says there is little danger to the general public.

"We have had experience of this worldwide, and this particular virus does not appear to have spread to humans very easily at all," Troop says. "If you think of the millions, probably billions of chickens or birds generally that have been affected by this virus, it is still a very, very small number of humans that have been affected by it."

The World Health Organization says 165 people have died from the virus. The most recent death was confirmed Sunday in Nigeria. The WHO says the principle source of human infection has been from close contact with infected birds.

Scientists fear the virus, could spark a pandemic, if it mutates into a form easily passed among humans.