Deadly Bird Flu Virus Strikes Italy for First Time

Italy's health minister said Saturday that the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain had been detected in swans in the country — the first time the virus has been detected in Italy.

The virus was found in swans in three Italian regions: Puglia and Calabria in southern Italy, and Sicily, said Health Minister Francesco Storace. The swans had arrived from the Balkans, he said.

"It's certain that the virus has reached Italy," Storace told reporters after briefing the Cabinet on the situation.

Storace said there we no human cases of infection reported, and sought to reassure Italians that the outbreak posed no immediate threat to humans and only affected birds.

"It's a relatively safe situation for human health, less so for animal health," said Storace.

He did not give the exact number of the birds that had been infected by the virus. But he said most of the 17 swans who were found dead were likely infected with H5N1.

Testing was conducted in at a laboratory in the northern city of Padua, and more analyses were underway, Storace said. Further results were expected as early as Saturday afternoon.

The ministry was looking at taking precautions in the areas where the virus was detected, such as limiting movement of animals.