More bird flu at Saudi poultry farm

All birds at an Al-Kharj farm have been culled following discovery of the deadly H5N1 virus, ministry says.
More bird flu at Saudi poultry farm
By Lynne Roberts and Reuters
Tue 27 Nov 2007 01:56 AM

More cases of a deadly strain of bird flu have been found at a poultry farm in Saudi Arabia just weeks before the Muslims flock to Mecca for the annual haj pilgrimage, the Ministry of Agriculture said yesterday.

A statement published on the official Saudi Press Agency said all birds at the farm at Al-Kharj, 150 km (94 miles) south of Riyadh, were culled on Thursday after the H5N1 strain was found there. It gave no more details.

Saudi authorities killed 50,000 birds in Al-Kharj earlier this month after 1,500 birds died of unspecified causes.

The Ministry of Agriculture said last Wednesday 3.5 million birds had been culled over the previous 10 days from affected poultry farms and markets surrounding the capital Riyadh. Saudi daily Al-Eqtisadiah estimated losses to the birds’ owners of around SR 5 million ($1.3 million).

The latest discovery comes just a few weeks before nearly 2 million faithful arrive for the haj pilgrimage season in Mecca.

An attempt to smuggle six truckloads of live birds into Riyadh was foiled yesterday, according to Arab News, as officials intensify efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

The virus has caused more than 200 deaths in humans globally since 2003, according to World Health Organisation data.

Although most people who have caught bird flu have had direct or indirect contact with infected fowl, experts fear the constantly mutating virus could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person.

The Saudi government says it has large stocks of Tamiflu anti-flu tablets in case the virus spreads to humans.

In March, Saudi Arabia said the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu had been discovered in peacocks, turkeys, ostriches and parrots at a house in the east of the kingdom and that an unspecified number of birds in the area had been culled.

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