Dont touch dead birds is the message from the crisis unit of the government in light of the increased number of dead swans infected with virus H5N1 of avarian flu. After the cases in Giarre (Sicily), Vibo Valentia (Calabria) and Salina (Sicily), there was confirmation of a sixth case found dead in Ugento, in the provincia di Lecce (Puglia) on Sunday.

The minister for health Francesco Storace underlined over the weekend that at present there was no risk to humans as the virus was still confined to wild birds. He has also promised that both farmers whose livestock is affected by the disease or have to be killed as part of prevention measures will be reimbursed. For those wanting more information or simply peace of mind, a toll free number 1500 has been set up and will be active every day 09.00-17.00.

Guidelines detailing measures of extreme caution and also how to deal with bird flu have been sent to local ASL health centres throughout the country even though up until now, the virus has not been transmitted from wildlife to human beings in Italy.

General rules for the public include: dont touch dead animals and should you see dead or ill birds (especially water-based wildlife such as ducks, geese, swans and seagulls pigeons are not seen as a risk) call for veterinary, ASL, or firefighter assistance; should you have contact with bird carcasses, carefully wash your hands and clothing. The Unit di Crisi or crisis unit of the government is eager to underline that these measures are precautionary with the aim of confining the virus to the wildlife environment. As long as the virus does not enter the domestic sphere, the unit believes the risk to human beings to be minimal.