August 15, 2005

Russian bird flu outbreak advances toward Europe

By Maria Golovnina

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia cordoned off roads and
slaughtered hundreds of birds on Monday to contain the advance
of a bird flu epidemic toward Western Europe.

The outbreak, previously confined to five remote areas of
Siberia, has now struck a major industrial region --
Chelyabinsk in the Ural mountains, which separate Asia from

"All ill and infected birds are being slaughtered there,"
the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

It was unclear whether the virus found in Chelyabinsk was
the deadly H5N1 strain that has killed more than 50 people in
Asia since 2003 and has hit Russia's Siberia as well as
neighbouring Kazakhstan and Mongolia since mid-July.

Carried by flocks of wild birds migrating from Siberia to
warmer regions, the virus has been steadily moving westward
through the regions of Novosibirsk, Tyumen, Omsk, Kurgan and

Chelyabinsk, separated from European Russia by the Ural
mountains and technically still in Siberia, is the westernmost
region to have been struck so far.

It lies about 1,000 km (600 miles) from the region where
the first flu outbreak was reported.

Although no humans have yet been affected, there are fears
the disease could spread to humans on the Eurasian landmass,
possibly unleashing a global influenza pandemic.

Media reported that roads leading to the infected village
of Oktyabrskoye in Chelyabinsk had been cordoned off to prevent
the virus from spreading further.

In other affected regions, police boosted road checks, and
400 domestic birds were culled in Chelyabinsk alone to block
the virus that has killed more than 10,000 birds countrywide.

Officials said wild birds, increasingly active in August as
they prepare to migrate ahead of winter, were to blame.

"Results of epizootic checks have shown that they (migrant
birds) are the main source of infection," Ria-Novosti news
agency quoted an official with the Novosibirsk state consumer
rights watchdog as saying.

There was no word on Monday on the situation in Kazakhstan
and Mongolia where bird flu has also been registered along
their sprawling borders with Russian Siberia.