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Bird flu spreads in Europe, Asia

Iran on Tuesday said 135 wild swans died of bird flu in marshlands near the Caspian Sea in the country's first case of the spreading virus, and officials in Germany and Austria said the virus had apparently reached there as well.

The disease's likely spread to three new countries follows the recent deaths of humans from the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Turkey and Iraq, Iran's neighbors, and the march of the disease into Greece and Italy.

Olympic officials in Italy said bird flu posed no threat to the Turin Olympics, but a Nigerian official warned that bird flu was fast spreading in that country, and a U.N. expert said the strain may have surfaced in a second African country.

Bird flu has killed at least 91 people since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. Almost all the human deaths have been linked to contact with infected poultry, but experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, possibly sparking a pandemic.

Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted the country's Veterinary Organization as saying that "international laboratory results" confirmed the wild swans died from bird flu. It did not name or give the location of the laboratory.

Health Minister Kamaran Bagheri Lankarani said on state-run television that Iranian officials have killed all wild birds in a three-mile radius around where the virus was detected, about 200 miles northwest of the capital Tehran.

Two dead swans in northern Germany were found on the island of Ruegen, and regional agriculture ministry spokeswoman Iris Uellendahl said a preliminary test showed they died of H5N1.

Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer ordered domestic poultry kept indoors beginning Friday instead of Monday as previously ordered. Samples from the birds were being taken to an EU laboratory in Britain for a definitive test, Uellendahl said.

Two birds found dead in Austria also appear to have been infected with the H5N1 strain. Hans Seitinger, a health official for Styria province, said there was a 70 percent chance that H5N1 had reached the country, according to results from preliminary tests carried out on samples from 21 birds. Samples have been sent for confirmation to a lab in England.

Health officials in Italy said they remained vigilant after a deadly strain of the virus was detected in the south of the country on Saturday.

Italy confirmed Saturday that six wild swans found in the southern regions of Sicily, Puglia and Calabria tested positive for H5N1. The areas are more than 600 miles from Turin.

The H5N1 strain was first confirmed in Africa last week in fowl in three states in northern Nigeria. It's now suspected in five other states, raising concern Nigeria is not taking the necessary measures to combat the disease.

Niger, Nigeria's northern neighbor, has said it was investigating two roosters found dead in a market near the Nigerian border. "It's likely that it's H5N1," said Juan Lubroth, a senior animal health officer at the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Many West African countries have taken measures such as calling on citizens to be vigilant or banning fowl imports to try to stop H5N1 from spreading on a continent with scarce means or infrastructure to deal with a public health crisis.

SLOVENIA AT RISK: A swan dives in the Drava river in Maribor, Slovenia, on Tuesday. Slovene authorities declared the country a bird flu "risk zone" on Monday as they awaited tests to find out if a dead swan was carrying the deadly H5N1 strain.

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