PARIS (AP) – The H5 subtype of bird flu was found in a dead wild duck in France, and officials said it was almost certainly the lethal H5N1 train.
If confirmed as H5N1, it would be France’s first case of the disease that has swept from Asia to Europe and Africa, and raised fears of a worldwide flu pandemic if it mutates into a form that is easily transmitted between humans.
Agriculture Minister Dominique Bussereau, speaking to reporters Saturday, said final test results to confirm whether the duck found in the southeastern Ain region was infected by H5N1 were expected at 3:30 p.m. (1430 GMT) on Saturday.
President Jacques Chirac, speaking to reporters during a trip to Thailand, called for a calm but serious approach to the bird flu case.
France, the European Union’s leading poultry producer, is already on alert to try to ensure that avian flu does not spread from the wild, where the disease is not unusual, to its 200,000 farms that raise 900 million chickens, turkeys, ducks and other birds each year.
The speed of the announcement that the duck had died of H5, just a few days after the duck was found, was seen as a measure of the effectiveness of French surveillance and testing procedures.
“French authorities should be encouraged for reporting this so quickly and this allows them, as well as local farmers, to take extra monitoring precautions,” Alex Thiermann, an expert for the World Organization for Animal Health in Paris, said in a telephone interview.
The suspected case of H5N1 was reported two days after France announced new anti-bird flu measures, ordering all poultry to be either vaccinated or confined indoors. Bussereau said some 900,000 birds in France would be vaccinated.
In line with new EU anti-bird flu measures adopted Friday by the European Commission, a three-kilometer (two-mile) protection zone was in force around the spot where the duck was found in a bird reserve on the Dombes plateau, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Lyon, France’s third-largest city.
Veterinarians were checking poultry in the zone, while the movement of live poultry to and from the area was banned and wild birds were being watched more closely, the ministry said.
The Dombes plateau has about 1,000 lakes and is a favored stop-off for migrating birds. The diseased bird was one of seven dead ducks found on a lake last weekend and handed over to a laboratory on Monday, Catherine Dupuis, the local director of veterinary services, told the AP.