A COMPANY leading the fight against hospital superbug MRSA has found its product also combats the deadly bird flu virus.

Tests carried out on a decontaminant derived from citrus fruit extracts, developed by Teesside-based Citrox, have proved it 99.9 per cent effective in destroying the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.

Citrox's managing director, Ian Ripley, said the results could have a major impact in preventing the spread of avian flu between birds and reduce the risk of it mutating to pass between humans.

His son, Andrew, who is also the company's commercial director, said: "Our product is not a cure but a preventative measure to safeguard people in the poultry industry against the spread of the virus. It has major potential."

Citrox, based at Riverside Park, Middlesbrough, has developed its Nvirox product based on research initiated in the 1930s by Hungarian Nobel Prize winner Szent-Gyorgi.

It uses nature's defence chemicals, in the form of orange extracts, known as bioflavonoids, and natural fruit acids such as vitamin C, to fight microbial and viral infections.

Citrox's products can kill diseases in humans, animals, birds and fish, but unlike many conventional treatments, they are non-toxic and hypo-allergenic to livestock and humans.

The firm made a major breakthrough in 2002, when its products were found to successfully destroy more than 100 species of micro-organisms, including MRSA.

They are used in the medical industry, by farmers to spray on crops and as an organic alternative to chlorine to wash and decontaminate fruit and vegetables sold to supermarkets.

Nvirox is already used in the poultry industry, with approval from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to decontaminate sheds to kill viruses and bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella.

"Viruses are transmitted by air so if you keep the air sanitised then viruses, bacteria and fungi will never develop as a problem," said Ian Ripley.

"The way things are going I have no doubt that the H5N1 strain will mutate and pass to humans. What our product is capable of is preventing it getting out of the poultry sheds in the first place."

Citrox is working in partnership with UTO Ltd, of Halifax, who are experts in poultry feed additives and disinfection, to publicise the product to Defra and those in the poultry industry.

Managing director Ted Dickin said: "Bird flu has the potential to be worse than foot-and-mouth. Nvirox is efficient at killing viruses and bacteria around poultry, but the problem is the industry is scared of change.

"We are trying to get the message out that is about prevention rather than cure."