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Trying to Contain the Spread of Bird Flu

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

More countries found the h-five-n-one virus in birds this week. Cases of the deadly virus in chickens and turkeys in Egypt led to an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday.

Earlier in the week, health officials found the virus in additional countries in Europe. Tests showed dead wild swans to be infected in Austria, Bulgaria Germany, Greece, Italy and Slovenia.

European Union health officials held a two-day meeting in Brussels to discuss the situation.

Experts are concerned that the animal virus could mix with a human virus and spread worldwide. So far, health officials say the virus has spread to most human victims directly from infected birds.

The World Health Organization reported one hundred sixty-nine laboratory-confirmed cases as of February thirteenth. These have been since the end of two thousand three. Ninety-one of the people have died. Most were in Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. There have been at least eight deaths in China, four each in Turkey and Cambodia and one in Iraq.

The virus was confirmed in Africa for the first time earlier this month. It was found in Nigeria. Scientists are not sure how it got there. Some think it reached Nigeria through trade in farm animals. They say the virus would have appeared in other African nations by now if wild birds had carried it there.

On Friday the Food and Agriculture Organization expressed growing concern that the virus may spread to other countries in West Africa. The United Nations agency said the country of greatest concern is Niger, which borders the affected areas in Nigeria.

The virus quickly kills birds. The F.A.O. says two million people in Niger are already at risk of severe hunger.

The agency's chief animal health officer urged African farmers to immediately report any suspected outbreaks. He warned of the risk that poor farmers might act quickly to sell birds on the market.

Asian economic losses from bird flu have been estimated at about ten thousand million dollars since the end of two thousand three. The F.A.O. says almost two hundred million poultry birds have died or been killed to contain the spread of the virus.

To reduce the risk of infection, the agency says people should wash their hands after they touch poultry. They should also disinfect their shoes before they enter or leave a poultry farm. Poultry birds should be kept in structures with a roof to keep out wild birds. And chickens should be kept separate from ducks and other kinds of birds.

Health experts say people should not touch wild birds, live or dead.

The World Health Organization says heat can kill the virus in food. It says all parts of the meat must be cooked to seventy degrees Celsius. And it says eggs should also be cooked fully, until the yolk is firm.

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Read and listen to our reports on the Web at I'm Steve Ember.