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Bird flu: Nine swans in Britain to be tested

Found dead in number of locations, they have so far not been detected to have H5N1 strain, govt officials said.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 19:50 IST

Tests for bird flu were to be carried out on nine swans in Britain on Monday as the government insisted it had contingency plans in place to deal with any outbreak of the disease.

The birds, which were found dead over the weekend, have so far not been found to have the virus including its H5N1 strain, said a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

"All the tests have so far been negative but testing continues," he added. "Obviously, we are at a heightened level of surveillance given the case (of a wild duck found to have been infected with H5N1) in France."

The birds were found in a number of locations across England and reported by members of the public to a special telephone line set up by the government as part of its increased surveillance measures.

The tests were to be carried out at the European Union's laboratory in Weybridge, southeast England.

The British Veterinary Association said that while birds die of a variety of causes, caution is recommended amid heightened awareness of bird flu, and that potentially suspicious deaths, particularly of groups of birds, should be reported.

Agriculture Minister Ben Bradshaw, who said Sunday bird flu was "more likely" to reach Britain given the confirmed case in France but not inevitable, has rejected calls to keep poultry indoors.

He told BBC television Monday that birds would be kept inside only if the H5N1 strain, which is potentially deadly if passed to humans, reaches Britain.

"Our contingency plan, which we have had in place for several years, is that we would only order the housing of birds if there was an outbreak in this country," he said.

"We are certainly thinking about it, and poultry keepers are ready to do it within 24 hours if we give the order.

"But it's worth remembering that The Netherlands and Germany both unnecessarily housed their birds in September last year at great expense, only to later let them out again."