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Bird Flu Confirmed in Hungarian Swans

Test results Tuesday confirmed that three dead swans found in Hungary were infected with deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, while Malaysia began killing birds after reporting its first case of the disease in more than a year.

The three dead swans, found earlier this month near the village of Nagybaracska, about 100 miles south of Budapest, were Hungary's first confirmed cases of H5N1, government spokesman Andras Batiz said.

Hong Kong's government, meanwhile, said a dead magpie found near an urban flower market was infected with the deadly strain, and health workers in western India expanded a massive slaughter of chickens.

The H5N1 virus has devastated poultry stocks and killed at least 92 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, according to the World Health Organization. Most human cases of the disease have been linked to contact with infected birds. But scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic.

More than half a million birds have been killed in India's Navapur district since the virus was found in samples from some of the 30,000 dead chickens. The government plans to kill a 700,000 birds within a 1.5-mile radius of the outbreak in Maharashtra state.

On Tuesday, a Maharashtra state official said the government planned to widen the culling area to include about 100,000 more birds. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

Farmers distraught over their losses asked how they would survive.

"It is a question of livelihood for 5,000 families," said Ghulam Vhora, a member of a Navapur poultry farmers association, after his 30,000 birds were killed. "We are all jobless."

Authorities have ordered 48 poultry farms around Navapur, more than 250 miles northeast of Bombay, to be emptied and remain shut for three months. The government has offered farmers compensation of 90 cents per bird, a price farmers say is inadequate.

Malaysia began culling birds and launched house-to-house inspections for sick people in a central district where 40 chickens last week died from the virus, Health Minister Chua Soi Lek told reporters. The affected villages are just outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city.

A panel of European Union veterinary experts on Tuesday debated the merit of letting governments vaccinate poultry to prevent avian flu from infecting commercial poultry stocks.

France and the Netherlands are pushing for poultry vaccination, while the EU Commission and several countries, including Britain, are opposed to that.

"Opinion in Europe is divided" on the effectiveness of vaccinating poultry, said Josef Proell, the Austrian agriculture minister, after chairing a meeting of EU farm ministers Monday.

German Agriculture Minister Horst Seehofer and others have questioned the merit of preventive vaccinations, saying it would be costly and logistically difficult since birds must be inoculated twice in a three-week period.

Seven EU nations — Austria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, France and Slovenia — have reported the disease's lethal H5N1 strain in wild birds. There have been signs that European consumers are turning away from poultry.

The Hong Kong government said in a statement late Monday that a magpie collected Friday from a congested commercial and residential district of Mong Kok had been confirmed to have the H5N1 strain.

The government has confirmed the virus in 10 carcasses of dead wild birds and chickens since January. No human cases have been reported.