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STUTTGART, Germany — The virus that causes avian influenza, also known as bird flu, was found in two dead birds that were discovered Tuesday in northern Germany.

The two swans found on the Baltic Sea island of Rügen made Germany the latest European nation in which the deadly virus was found.

In recent days, diseased swans were found in Italy, and preliminary tests showed that two dead birds discovered in Austria also were likely to have been carrying the deadly virus.

The discoveries, however, made little impact on plans being developed by the U.S. European Command on how it would confront an epidemic should the virus mutate into a form that can be spread from human to human.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu, which has caused more than 90 deaths to humans, mostly in Southeast Asia, in its current form can only be spread from fowl to humans.

“We frankly expect there to be more cases of sick and dying birds, spread about the EUCOM [area of responsibility],” said Army Dr. (Col.) Edward Huycke, the EUCOM command surgeon.

“It’s a wild disease in a wild, migratory population. It’s going to move and it’s going to spread. I’m not surprised by the developments, but it’s something we’ve got to watch.”

Virus-carrying birds also have been discovered in Greece, Romania and Turkey. At least two people in Turkey died from bird flu.

EUCOM officials are devising a plan, that, should the virus mutate into one that could be transferred among humans, would safeguard its people while its missions could still be carried out.

“Our people are very well-informed right now,” Huycke said. “We’re continuing that planning effort, and it has been very aggressive.

“But it hasn’t changed based on the new developments.”

Plans include ways the military would work with local national authorities to isolate the disease, and ways that a vaccine could be developed and distributed quickly should a pandemic break out.

Officials stressed that bird flu in its current form poses no threat to most people. It currently strikes only those who come in direct contact with birds that carry the virus.

“It’s a painfully obvious thing, but we’re telling people to stay away from dead birds,” said Army Maj. Steve Wollman, a EUCOM spokesman with the planning team. “Avoid contact with any live birds and bird farms that are in the affected areas.”

Wollman also emphasized that basic sanitation precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of bird flu or any transmittable disease: frequent hand-washing, thorough cooking of poultry products and safe handling of raw poultry.

He added that the bird flu virus has not yet shown to be transferred by eating poultry products such as chicken and eggs.


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