Bird-Flu Virus Found on British Turkey Farm

Britain has recorded its first case of the H5N1 bird flu virus. U.N. officials say the virus was quickly contained. The virus appears to be confined to one farm, where more than 150,000 turkeys were slaughtered.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to Britain, where officials are investigating the cause of a bird flu outbreak on a turkey farm. It's the first time that the highly infectious H5N1 strain of bird flu has been found on a British farm. And last week's outbreak led to the killing of tens of thousands of birds to prevent the virus from spreading.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: Staff at the farm near the town of Lowastock(ph) in eastern England first noticed last Wednesday that an unusual number of turkeys in one of the farm's 23 sheds had died. About 2,500 birds died in all of that initial outbreak. And when tests confirmed that the H5N1 strain of bird flu was to blame, the government decided that all poultry at the farm should be destroyed. Nearly 160,000 turkeys were gassed and incinerated over the weekend.

Experts and politicians expressed surprise at how exactly the bird flu virus could have got into the farm. One of the areas they're investigating is a recent outbreak in Hungary, where the owners of the infected British farm also owned poultry farms.

Britain's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the virus had been confined to the one farm in Britain, and the government's chief scientist said yesterday he was confident the flu would not spread to other farms. But a precautionary protection zone has been set up around the farm, and restrictions have been imposed on the way birds are housed and moved. Farm workers have been offered anti-viral drugs.

Britain's $7-billion poultry industry, which produces 800 million birds a year, is bracing for a lost of export orders. This outbreak follows a relative lull in cases of H5N1 among European poultry since hundreds of turkeys died at a farm in eastern France about a year ago. H5N1 has killed at least 165 people worldwide since 2003 - most of them in Asia - and more than 200 million birds have died from it, all being killed to prevent its spread.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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