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Pakistan confirms H5N1 bird flu strain in poultry

Samples from two farms were sent to a laboratory in Britain, and the flocks were culled.
None | By Reuters, Islamabad
PUBLISHED ON MAR 21, 2006 04:35 PM IST

The bird flu virus found in two Pakistan poultry flocks late last month was the deadly H5N1 strain, officials confirmed on Tuesday.

But livestock Commissioner Muhammad Afzal said there were no other cases of bird flu since the outbreak was first reported on February 27 at farms in the North West Frontier Province.

Samples from two farms were sent to a laboratory in Britain, and the flocks -- totalling around 23,000 birds -- were culled.

"I can only confirm that the H5N1 type of virus was found in chickens from both the farms," Agriculture Ministry official Mohammad Akhlaque said.

"We have conducted tests on the people who worked on both the farms and they are healthy. There is no sign of any bird flu in those people. We have already culled all chickens so there is not much more we can do," he added.

"The situation is under control and there is no report of any further outbreak of H5N1 from any part of the country," Afzal said.

He further said that tests on birds from central Punjab and southern Sindh provinces have proved negative and a nationwide survey was being conducted as a precaution.

Pakistan had been bracing for bad news from the British laboratory because the highly pathogenic H5N1 virus had already been identified in neighbouring Afghanistan, India and Iran.

Moreover, Pakistan's own National Avian Influenza laboratory had identified an H5 strain at the two farms over three weeks ago, raising the probability that N1 would also be present.

The virus has spread across Asia, parts of the Middle East, Africa and Europe, and has killed about 100 people worldwide since 2003.

One farm in Charsadda, 120 km northwest of Islamabad, was a commercial egg farm, while the one in Abbotabad, 125 km north of the capital, was a small breeder farm.

"The public is assured that cooked poultry meat and eggs are safe to eat and there should not be any undue concern in this regard," the ministry's statement said.

Despite the scare, which has almost halved prices for poultry and eggs, Munir Ahmed, a 24 year-old poultry butcher in NWFP's provincial capital of Peshawar, was fatalistic.

"Life and death is in the hands of God," said Ahmed, as he slaughtered chickens by chopping off their heads in front of his customers.

"Chickens have always suffered diseases. They die too. What's the big deal?"

Even as Ahmed threw the carcasses in a large plastic drum, a woman asked; "What price is your chicken?"

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