Bird Flu Fears Could Curb Poultry Consumption; Sweden Confirms First H5N1 Case

Sweden became the latest country to report an outbreak of bird flu. Two wild ducks found dead on the Baltic coast had an aggressive form of bird flu and officials said it was likely to be confirmed as the feared H5N1 strain.

Also, birds from East African neighbors Kenya and Ethiopia were being tested for H5N1.

"The spread of the infection to domestic poultry in other European and neighboring countries is highly likely and may even be made worse by the arrival in Europe of possibly infected birds from Africa and the Middle East next spring," the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) said.

The news that France confirmed its first outbreak of H5N1 has prompted 20 countries to ban French poultry. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned the crisis would depress demand for poultry and hit prices.

"The U.N. agency expects poultry consumption shocks in many countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa that have been hit by the avian influenza," according to its statement. "Poultry prices are expected to continue declining, threatening industry profitability around the world," it added, cutting its estimate for global consumption by around 3 million tons to 81.8 million tons this year.

Swedish officials said today they had detected its first cases of an "aggressive form of bird flu," though it was not yet confirmed as the deadly H5N1 strain, in two wild ducks, news media reported. Animal health authorities said the strain of flu found in the two wild birds near the southeastern port of Oskarshamn seemed to be the same one detected in countries already hit by outbreaks of H5N1, but they could not yet confirm this.

The H5N1 virus has been detected in more than 20 new countries over the past month alone, crossing into Europe and Africa. The virus is endemic in birds across parts of Asia. It has led to the culling or deaths of some 200 million birds since late 2003. In poultry flocks it can cause sudden severe disease, rapid contagion and a mortality rate that can approach 100% within 48 hours.


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