A vet who fell ill after helping contain the bird flu outbreak in Suffolk has tested negative for the disease, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) said today.

The man, named in reports as Gordon Young, "will now be treated under normal clinical care", an HPA spokesman said.

The vet tested negative for avian flu and normal seasonal flu.

The man, reported to be in his 50s, has been undergoing tests at Nottingham City Hospital .

He has a mild respiratory illness and was being checked for a range of possible conditions, including H5N1 avian flu.

Nottingham University Hospitals said yesterday that his condition was causing no immediate concern.

He fell ill after working at the Bernard Matthews farm where the outbreak occurred.

In a statement yesterday, an HPA spokesman said: "The Agency will be carrying out various tests to establish the cause of the worker's illness, one of which will be for H5N1 avian flu.

"However, it is thought unlikely that the worker has been exposed to H5N1 avian flu as they will have been following strict protective measures concerning clothing and hygiene and were also prescribed antiviral drugs."

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: "We understand that this is being investigated purely as a precautionary measure."

Bernard Matthews yesterday defended its handling of the outbreak.

Commercial director Bart Dalla Mura said the company had no idea the turkeys were suffering from bird flu until Defra told them last Friday.

He said: "We heard the birds weren't well on Wednesday, the mortality increased a bit more on Thursday and that is when our vet said 'I'm going to contact the next stage of the line'.

"The last thing we thought is that they had avian flu."

He added: "Only when the mortality went up on Thursday did the possibility of it being avian flu come to light."

European Union veterinary experts were told yesterday that the outbreak was unlikely to be linked to one in Hungary last month.

EU spokesman Michael Mann said the expert panel was being debriefed by British veterinary officials on the outbreak at the turkey farm, but was unlikely to take added safety measures at this point.

He also criticised Russia and Japan for applying bans on British poultry imports in the wake of the outbreak, saying they were unjustified.

The 27-member veterinary panel was holding talks to assess public and animal safety measures taken by British health officials following the outbreak.

Mr Dalla Mura said yesterday there was "not a remote possibility" the outbreaks could be linked.

Bernard Matthews owns Saga Foods, Hungary's largest poultry company, which is 165 miles from the place where an outbreak of the H5N1 virus occurred in a flock of geese.

"Our farm is about 160 miles away from the outbreak and vets agree it is just not a source of questioning at all," Mr Dalla Mura said.

"There is not a remote possibility it would have happened in that way."

He said the virus could have hit any flock, whether free-range or factory farmed.

The infection was confined to one out of 22 sheds and there was no evidence it had spread to any other turkeys, he added.

The farm will reopen once Defra gives it the all-clear.

He said the source of the outbreak remained a mystery, but a wild bird getting into the turkey pens remained a possibility.

Compensation from Defra would not cover the cost of the birds that had been culled, he said.

He added that Bernard Matthews birds were home-grown.

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