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Romania works to contain bird flu strain

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BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) -- Romanian health officials took steps Sunday to contain a deadly strain of bird flu that has killed at least 60 people in Asia and was confirmed late last week to have spread to Europe.

Officials were spraying disinfectant on the tires of vehicles departing Tuleca and Constanza counties -- near the Black Sea, where the H5N1 strain was discovered, said Minister of Agriculture Ghearghe Flutur.

Flutur said the situation was under control and that although Romania does not need international help, it will not refuse offers from the European Union and the United States.

Results of additional tests on an H5 virus discovered in a bird in the village of Maliuc to determine if it was infected with the H5N1 strain will be announced Monday morning by a laboratory in England, he said.

Authorities have killed thousands of birds, including ducks and swans, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

In Ceamurlia and Maliuc, in Tuleca County, almost 60 birds have died from avian flu, authorities said.

Live birds are no longer available for sale in markets, and approval from a veterinarian is needed to sell even slaughtered chickens.

Tourism operators complained that they had been hit hard by the disease, because bird hunting -- a popular sport among international visitors -- has been banned in an attempt to reduce close contact between humans and birds.

Officials said they had vaccinated 100,000 Romanians against garden-variety strains of influenza in an attempt to limit the possibility that the virus that causes bird flu might, through "reassortment" with the more common forms, gain the ability to spread easily from person to person.

The effectiveness of attempts to stem the spread may be limited, since the existence of H5N1 bird flu in Romania bolsters the theory that the virus may be spread by migratory birds.

Despite the fact that 117 people in Asia have been infected by the strain and 60 have died, H5N1 in its current form does not easily infect humans.

But officials fear it could mutate into a more easily transmissible strain and result in a global pandemic.

The strain found in Romania was tested and confirmed to be H5N1 at a laboratory in Weybridge, England, European Commission spokesman Robert Soltyk said.

The Romanian government Saturday confirmed the strain's presence.

Soltyk said that before the confirmation the commission had been working under the assumption it was the highly pathogenic type of bird flu, and took all necessary protective measures to halt its spread, including banning the export of live birds and poultry products from Romania.

It had done the same for Turkey after bird flu was detected there last weekend and confirmed Thursday to be H5N1.

Bird flu normally spreads to humans through contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site.

But it is thought that a few cases of human-to-human spread of H5N1 have occurred.

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