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Tests Negative For Bird Flu In Belgium

Preliminary blood tests showed no sign of bird flu in a patient hospitalized in Belgium after returning from Turkey, top health officials said Saturday.

Health Minister Rudy Demotte told a news conference that tests showed the patient, a Russian television freelance journalist who lives in Brussels, did not have the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus.

"We are sure--two tests prove it--that it is not H5 flu, so it is not an avian flu," Demotte said, calming fears and adding that Belgium's new influenza crisis plan had for the most part worked well in dealing with the potential outbreak.

"For the future we will reinforce the plans," said Demotte. "This case was for us very satisfying. We had in a very short time tests (results) that exclude H5" bird flu.

The preliminary tests carried out after the patient checked into a hospital showed the patient suffered only a common flu, said Dr. Rene Snacken, head of Belgium's Public Health Scientific Institute.

"First preliminary results showed a common seasonal strain," he told reporters.

Fear was high that the journalist, who was filming a documentary in the Turkish eastern Van province, had contracted bird flu, which would have made him the first person to take the human form of the disease into Europe.

The province has been one of several eastern Turkish regions hit by bird flu in recent weeks.

In Turkey, 18 people have been confirmed infected with H5N1, including three children who died a week ago.

All are suspected to have had direct contact with infected birds.

Officials said the journalist, whose age and name were not given, checked into the hospital in Brussels on Friday with flu-like symptoms, the day after returning from Van with his cameraman.

Piet Vanthemsche, head of Belgium's special influenza task force, said all persons the journalist came in contact with had been notified, including family, the cameraman who accompanied the Russian to Turkey and those on the flight from Turkey, which stopped in Munich, Germany.

Vanthemsche said the journalist told health officials he did not have any direct contact with poultry in Turkey.

The patient remains under observation in an isolated ward at the hospital until his health improves, officials said, adding final test results were expected Sunday, confirming the preliminary test results.