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The deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus continues to spread westward.
Germany is the latest country to report that dead birds with the virus have been found.
Austria made similar confirmations, causing Sweden and Denmark to order all their poultry producers to keep their birds indoors as a precaution.
H5N1 has also recently been found in Italy, Greece and Bulgaria. The UN food agency urged governments in Western Europe not to panic, but to expect spread as bird flocks migrate.
A spokeswoman for the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds indicated that the flocks may have migrated West quicker and farther than normal due to the extreme cold temperatures that Eastern Europe had experienced earlier this winter. The following summarizes the spread so far of H5N1 in Eurasia:
• August 2005: Avian virus reported in Siberia.
• October 2005: H5N1 kills thousands of birds in Turkey; several cases in Croatia and Romania; UK records its first case of H5N1, in a quarantined parrot from South America.
• December 2005: Ukraine cases.
• January 2006: Four people die in Turkey; virus found in Cyprus.
• February 2006: H5N1 confirmed in Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Germany and Austria.
While the virus has only killed 90 people so far, mostly in South-East Asia, and only infects humans through close contact with sick birds, the spread does increase the chance of the dangerous and greatly-feared mutation that would enable it to be spread from human to human.