Moscow Russian authorities, struggling to contain an outbreak of avian flu that has killed thousands of birds in Siberia, admitted Thursday that a spread of the virus into Europe seems almost inevitable.
"It is quite likely that the flu will creep westward. What else can it do? The infection is picking up momentum," said Viktor Maleyev, deputy director of the Russian Health Ministry's Institute of Epidemiology.
Equally worrying, health officials confirmed the outbreak includes a strain that has been known to affect humans, known as H5N1. Scientists fear expansion of the virus' geography increases the chances of a major outbreak within the human population - opening the possibility of a dangerous and widespread influenza pandemic.
While there have been isolated cases of avian flu around the world, including in the United States, the most dangerous strain of the virus until now has been concentrated largely in Asia, with human cases limited to Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.