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Kuwait detects cases of deadly bird flu

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) - Kuwait announced on Sunday that it had detected the deadly strain of avian influenza in poultry and birds such as falcons and had shut the nation's only zoo.

"Twenty cases of avian influenza have been detected in birds, most of them falcons," Sheikh Ahmed Abdallah Al-Sabah said in a statement.

Ministry spokesman Ahmad al-Shatti told AFP it was the deadly H5N1 form of the disease, which according to the World Health Organisation has killed 167 people worldwide since it emerged in 2003.

A nationwide emergency response programme has been enacted, including the banning of all bird imports and the temporary closure of Kuwait Zoo and bird market.

The last case of avian flu in Kuwait was discovered in November 2005.

The statement said the cases, mostly in falcons, were confirmed by local and British laboratories and that more tests were being conducted.

Shatti said the ministry has taken blood samples from all people suspected of having contact with the infected birds and were being tested.

He said about 30 teams have been deployed to various parts of the oil-rich Gulf states following the discovery of the virus.

Some of the infected birds were found in Wafra farms area on the border with Saudi Arabia, while others were found at the only zoo in the country.

Kuwait is a member of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which has drawn up a common strategy to combat the virus amid warnings by officials that the region was vulnerable because of migratory birds.

Individually, GCC states have recently adopted measures to prevent the spread of avian flu, including the ban of birds, poultry and their products mainly from countries in Asia and Europe where bird flu cases have surfaced.

Some countries, including Saudi Arabia, have also earmarked millions of dollars to buy drugs to combat the disease.