December 14, 2005

Ukraine says deadly bird flu in new villages

KIEV (Reuters) - Bird flu, including the H5N1 strain dangerous to humans, has spread to new villages in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, officials said on Wednesday.

Both Belarus, Ukraine's northern neighbor, and Bulgaria across the Black Sea slapped bans on imports adding to measures put in place by Russia and Kazakhstan.

But Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said he hoped emergency measures invoked to contain the outbreak in the peninsula jutting into the Black Sea could be repealed by the New Year.

"The situation ... with bird flu in Crimea remains difficult. There are more cases of infection of domestic birds," a Health Ministry statement said.

Instances of bird flu had now been detected in 25 villages in Crimea, it said, with the H5N1 strain confirmed in 11. Nearly 54,000 birds had been rounded up and destroyed in affected villages and 513 residents remained under medical observation.

Ukraine has so far based its data from Russian laboratories. Officials say they are awaiting further confirmation of the presence of H5N1 from a laboratory in Britain later in the week.

Cases of H5N1 have also been found in Romania and Russia.

Belarus's top veterinarian said his country's ban applied to all farm goods from Crimea and five adjoining regions.

"We are taking measures to keep bird flu from spreading further," Mikhail Bushilo told Reuters in Minsk. The disease, he said, could spread "to any food source you can think of."

Bulgaria banned import and transit of poultry meat, eggs and live birds from throughout Ukraine. Russia and Kazakhstan imposed similar bans this month.

The first discovery of bird flu late last month prompted President Viktor Yushchenko to invoke a state of emergency in several villages, with the seizure and slaughter of birds and imposition of exclusion zones patrolled by police.

But villagers complained that birds had been falling ill since September with officials taking no action. Ukraine's chief veterinary officer was then dismissed.

About 22 million domestic birds live in Crimea -- of 190 million throughout Ukraine. Poultry producers say the outbreak has had no effect on annual consumption of one million tonnes.

Yekhanurov, addressing a cabinet meeting, said the measures undertaken in Crimea, a major stopping point for migratory birds heading south for the winter, were containing the outbreak.

He proposed lifting the state of emergency, imposed for the first time since Ukraine won independence in 1991.

"I am asking that a legal analysis of the state of emergency be carried out," he said. "I believe that a quarantine will be quite sufficient. The government sees no problem in lifting the state of emergency."