Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bird flu shows further spread

October 20, 2005


— Russian authorities on Wednesday detected a deadly strain of bird flu south of Moscow and China reported a fresh outbreak in its northern grasslands - signs the deadly virus was spreading across Siberia to the Mediterranean along the pathways of migratory birds.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned of a marked increase in chances that bird flu would move to the Middle East and Africa - and hit countries poorly equipped to deal with an outbreak.

In Asia, crucible of the virus, China's official Xinhua news agency said 2,600 birds in the northern grasslands had died of the disease. It did not give details on when the birds were found, and sought to reassure the public that the outbreak was contained.

The H5N1 strain was detected in Siberia in July. Migratory birds flying over the region from elsewhere in Asia were blamed for the outbreak.

Preliminary genetic tests now have found an H5N1 flu virus in samples of birds taken from a village south of Moscow, the Russian Agriculture Ministry said. Further tests are needed to confirm the finding and determine whether the H5N1 strain is the same one that has devastated flocks in Asia since 2003.

If so, it would mark the first appearance of the virus in European Russia, west of the Ural Mountains.

Officials said 220 of 3,000 domestic birds in the village of Yandovka had died. Birds on the six affected farms were being destroyed, and local officials have decided to kill all poultry in the village. In addition, a quarantine was established around Yandovka. Villagers were prohibited from leaving except in emergencies.

More than 200,000 people in the region were given standard flu vaccinations, the ITAR-Tass news agency said. Such shots are given to prevent normal flu so that if the person gets infected with the bird virus, there is no human flu strain inside the body to mix with and create a dangerous hybrid.

In Hungary, officials announced Wednesday that preliminary experiments with an H5N1 vaccine indicate it works. Health Minister Jenoe Racz said he and dozens of others were inoculated three weeks ago and tests showed that antibodies to the virus had appeared in his blood.

"The results are preliminary, but I can say with 99.9 percent certainty that the vaccine works," he said.

However, the World Health Organization said it was unaware of the details of the Hungarian findings and was unable to comment on their validity or whether the vaccine - even if it works - would be viable.

The EU, meanwhile, was trying to assess whether the H5N1 strain of bird flu had spread into Macedonia and Greece. H5N1 already has been confirmed in two villages in Romania and in Turkey.


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