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Russia Grapples With Bird Flu Outbreak --> Prague, 17 August 2005 -- The deadly bird flu epidemic is spreading in Russia and risks being carried to Europe and the Middle East by migrating birds seeking warmer weather this fall.

The outbreak, which began in Asia, was discovered in mid-July in Novosibirsk and has spread through the Tyumen, Omsk, Kurgan, Altai, and Chelyabinsk regions. Kazakhstan and Mongolia also have outbreaks.

The H5N1 strain is behind the outbreak of avian influenza in Chelyabinsk, according to the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry.

The strain can be deadly to humans, and has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003. However, the ministry said yesterday in a statement that no cases among humans has so far been confirmed in Russia.

The ministry says it is taking measures to try to keep it that way, as well as prevent the possible spread of the disease to Europe and the Middle East via migrating birds.

In parts of the Ural mountain region, local officials have banned the sale of poultry products. Barriers and disinfection pits have also been placed on roads.

"We will fill this hole in the asphalt with sawdust and pour disinfectant into it," said Anatolii Makin, a representative of the administration of the village of Oktyabrskoe, outside Chelyabinsk, which was quarantined yesterday. "All vehicles going to and from Oktyabrskoe will pass through this disinfection line."

Thirty-seven people from the village who were in contact with infected birds are now under medical examination.

The head of the Oktyabrskoe administration, Sergei Velichko, said that sanitary workers are slaughtering birds in the village, with farmers being compensated for birds that are killed.

"Special transport is involved in the disinfection of various farms and houses," Velichko said. "A special team comes together with the local policeman and brings the decree about confiscating the birds. Then all the birds are slaughtered, put into special bags and taken to a special territory and burned."
Health officials estimate that more than 11,000 birds have been killed nationwide in the battle to contain the disease.

Health officials said that more than 11,000 birds have been killed nationwide in the battle to contain the disease. The losses are a blow to some, but Oktyabrskoe resident Anatolii Belousov said he understands it's necessary.

"I had geese, broiler chickens, ordinary chickens," Belousov said. "The geese got sick first. I feel sorry for my birds, but I think that it's better to sacrifice something today than to lose everything the next year again."

Officials today reported mass bird deaths in the Caspian region of Kalmykia, a region to the west of the Ural mountains. But they so far have been unable to confirm that flu killed the birds. If that proves the case, it will mark the first detection of bird flu in European Russia.

Officials now fear that the virus could spread to Western Europe and Africa. Tens of millions of birds in Russia will be migrating to warmer climates from next month.

Bernard Gartner, an expert with the World Health Organization in Copenhagen, spoke with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service.

"It is very, extremely difficult to control, of course, what is happening in wildlife," Gartner said. "It is easier, of course, to control what is happening on farms, where they have chicken and geese in large quantities. And once the disease is detected, we should not wait long to exterminate those flocks. And then, of course, there is the very small risk of human infection. And, again, we should be aware of that."

There are several strains of bird flu, each with different subtypes. The H5N1 subtype is highly pathogenic. It can be passed from birds to humans, but there have been no known cases of human-to-human transmission to date.

(RFE/RL's Uzbek Service/news agencies)

See also:

"Avian Flu: Frequently Asked Questions"