London: A parrot which died in quarantine in Britain was carrying the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, a variant of the type that has killed more than 60 in Asia.
The bird, an import from Surinam inSouth America, is thought to have caught the disease from Taiwanese finches in the same Essex quarantine centre. Tests are being carried out to see if they were carrying the virus.
The strain of flu which killed the parrot is identical to the one which has ravaged bird flocks in China and neighbouring countries. The finches, and all 148 parrots in the same consignment, have been destroyed.
All 2,000 birds in quarantine around the country will now be checked before they are cleared for import.
All staff in the quarantine centre involved have been given anti-viral drugs to protect them from infection.
Experts stressed that infections of humans with the H5N1 virus are very rare. Almost all the people in the Far East who caught it were in close contact with infected birds. But experts fear the virus may mutate into a type that could spread quickly from person to person.
Such a mutation is thought to have caused the 1918 flu pandemic which killed millions around the world.
The Government plans to vaccinate everyone in Britain against the bug. It has put a firm on standby to produce a jab as soon as a pandemic emerges and the exact strain causing it has been identified.
Other protection will come from the anti-viral drug Tamiflu, which can reduce symptoms, and a more basic vaccine which is already available.
H5N1 bird flu has so far been confirmed in Romania, Turkey, Russia and Croatia and there have been suspected cases in Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria. But weekend tests on a duck in Sweden proved negative.