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The prospects of an increase in demand for personal protection equipment in Britain, particularly face masks to prevent airborne infection, have grown yet again with news that the lethal strain of bird flu has reached France.

A trio of swans found dead near a pond in the town of Assenoncourt, near the German border, have tested positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus.

In recent days tests have also confirmed the presence of the virus in a wild bird in Germany, while other dead birds are being tested elsewhere in Germany and also in Austria.

French health minister Roselyne Bachelot tried to reassure the public, saying: 'France is not threatened by a bird flu pandemic as there has not been, for the moment, a human contamination from the H5N1 virus.'

Experts are concerned that a mutant form of the virus may emerge that can pass from human to human.

So far most of the deaths have come in parts of Asia where the victims have come in close contact with infected birds.

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