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Bird Flu Detected In Middle East

Kuwait has detected two cases of bird flu in birds, a senior official said Thursday, but it was not clear if the virus strain was the deadly version that has devastated poultry in Asia and triggered fears of a human pandemic.

It is the first known case of the disease in the Middle East.

Sheik Fahd Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, the head of the Public Authority for Agriculture and Fisheries, told reporters the first case was discovered at the airport quarantine in a peacock imported from Asia. He did not say which country the peacock came from.

The second case, a flamingo, was found on the beach, the official KUNA agency quoted him as saying.

The official said the country had reported no cases of bird flu among humans.

"Immediate action was taken ... and the situation is under control," Sheik Fahd said, adding the cases were found because of the precautions that Kuwait had taken.

"All of our national production of poultry and eggs are free of the disease," Sheik Fahd said.

In related developments:

  • Authorities in China said Thursday they have quarantined 116 people in northeastern Liaoning province after two new outbreaks of bird flu there. The province has now suffered three outbreaks in less than three weeks despite a massive campaign to contain the virus.
  • The head of the European Union's disease prevention agency said Thursday the risk of bird flu outbreaks has receded in Europe, but warned a second wave of the deadly H5N1 strain is likely when migrating birds return next spring. "I think this virus was brought to Europe by the migrating birds, and quite likely they have already gone further," said Zsaid Zsuzsanna, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.
  • The National Institutes of Health's infectious disease chief told a Senate panel Wednesday that research suggests the U.S. could stretch its limited supply of bird-flu vaccine. Doctor Anthony Fauci says preliminary testing in 96 people showed that adding the immune-boosting chemical dramatically lowered the required vaccine dose.
  • The World Health Organization on Wednesday estimated that developing vaccines and boosting production of antivirals to fight a flu pandemic will cost about $500 million over the next three to four years. The cost will be in addition to the $1 billion that the World Bank said would be needed to control the current bird flu outbreak and prepare for a possible human pandemic.
  • Vietnam said Wednesday the Swiss maker of Tamiflu has agreed to let the country produce the antiviral medicine early next year, and a U.N. official said a major funding increase could help stamp out bird flu. The agreement with Roche Holding AG would let Vietnam — which has reported most of the 63 known human deaths from bird flu — start as early as next January, said Nguyen Van Thanh of the Health Ministry's pharmaceutical administration department. Vietnam is believed to be the first country to make such an arrangement.
  • China's Premier Wen Jiabao warned Wednesday that the country faces a serious threat from bird flu, since the disease is still not under control despite massive nationwide efforts to stop its spread. Wen, touring the bird-flu affected province of Liaoning in northeastern China, said the effort to stop the virulent H5N1 virus from spreading to humans was "an arduous task," the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
  • Romanian authorities have canceled a fishing ban in the Danube Delta after recent tests revealed no further cases of bird flu in the region, the Agriculture Minister said Wednesday. The ban was meant to reduce the number of people coming into the delta region and was imposed last month after several birds tested positive for the H5N1 subtype of avian flu.
  • In coming days, KFC will have television commercials ready to reassure customers that its chicken is safe to eat if there is a bird flu outbreak. The chicken chain said Tuesday it hopes the spots never have to air, but it's taking no chances in the face of a potential threat to business.
  • In the Gulf region, Dr. Mohammed al-Mihana, of Iran's Public Authority for Agriculture and Fisheries, told The Associated Press that Kuwait laboratory tests found the bird flu strain to be H5, but it was not clear whether it was N1 or N2.

    The H5N1 strain has devastated poultry stocks and killed more than 60 people in Asia. It has generated fears of a pandemic if it mutates into a version that can be passed among humans. The H5N2 strain is a mild variant that is believed to cause little illness.

    "We are satisfied with our tests, and we find no need for further investigations," al-Mihana said.

    Al-Mihana said it was not necessary to conduct a wide cull of birds in Kuwait, but the authority has intensified its watch of poultry farms.

    No humans in Kuwait have complained of bird flu symptoms, he added.

    A member of the state's contingency committee for bird flu said there was no spread of the disease. Ahmed al-Shatti said the government will report the two cases to the World Animal Health Organization, rather than the World Health Organization, because no human cases are suspected.

    "We wouldn't be involved at all until there is a human case," WHO spokesman Dick Thompson told the AP in Geneva.

    Last month, Kuwait said it had earmarked $17 million to buy drugs to combat bird flu.

    The entire Middle East region has been worried about possible outbreaks because the region sits on important bird migratory routes. Jordan and Israel are among other countries taking precautions.

    Officials in the United Arab Emirates also have said they are highly concerned about bird flu appearing there.

    The Kuwaiti government has banned the import of wild birds from all countries, plus poultry from infected states. The ban include "water and land" birds as well as pet and exotic ones.

    Despite the ban, birds continue to arrive at the airport, where they are quarantined and tested. The infected peacock was one such bird.

    The disease has so far spread to several Asian countries as well as to Croatia, Romania and Turkey.