Avian flu spreads westward in Russia

Aug 15, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Avian influenza has cropped up in chickens near Russia's Ural Mountains, possibly signaling a continued westward march of the deadly H5N1 virus, news services in Russia reported today.

The Chelyabinsk region along the southern end of the Urals is the sixth area in Russia to have been hit by avian flu outbreaks recently, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reuters. The Urals separate Siberia from European Russia.

A regional official said 60 chickens in the village of Oktyabrskoye died over the weekend, according to an online report by Mosnews.com. The report said testing had detected an H5N1 virus in the dead birds. However, the AFP and Reuters reports said it was not yet known if the virus was H5N1.

Other parts of southwestern Siberia that have reported recent outbreaks of avian flu include Novosibirsk, Altai, Omsk, Tyumen, and Kurgan, all to the east of Chelyabinsk, according to AFP. But the H5N1 strain has been identified only in the Novosibirsk, Altai, and Omsk outbreaks, the report said.

The Siberian outbreaks have killed 10,896 wild and domestic birds, according to an RIA Novosti news agency report quoted by AFP. Hundreds of thousands of birds have been culled since the first in the series of Russian outbreaks was reported in Novosibirsk on Jul 21, according to Mosnews.com. No human cases have been reported.

Russia's top government epidemiologist, Gennady Onischenko, warned that migrating birds could spread avian flu to Russia's major agricultural region and on to the Middle East and Mediterranean Sea this fall.

"An analysis of bird migration routes has shown that the contagious A (H5N1) virus may spread from western Siberia to the Caspian and Black Sea areas this fall," said Onischenko, as quoted by an RIA Novosti report today. "Some birds nesting in the affected regions (the Novosibirsk and Altai territory) migrate to the above-mentioned areas for winter or stop there on their way to Africa or Europe."

He added that bird migration routes run through Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Georgia, Ukraine, and Mediterranean countries, raising a risk of outbreaks there as well, according to the story. Onischenko made the statements in a letter to regional directors of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare.

Russia's Agriculture Ministry said all sick and infected birds in Chelyabinsk were being destroyed, and Russian media reported that roads leading to the affected village were cordoned off in an effort to contain the outbreak, according to Reuters.

A Russian agricultural official said the Chelyabinsk outbreak is near a lake that borders the Kurgan region and Kazakhstan, where other avian flu outbreaks have been reported recently, according to the Mosnews.com report.

Meanwhile, a Russian journalist named Maria Pashkova, who was hospitalized after visiting an area affected by avian flu, has been tested for the illness, according to an RIA Novosti report today. Results of the test are expected later this week.

Mosnews.com reported that Pashkova had already recovered from her illness. Four other Russians were hospitalized with suspected avian flu recently, but all four tested negative, the RIA Novosti story said.

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