Bird Flu Link Examined in Rostov Poultry Deaths

The Agriculture Ministry's animal and plant health watchdog is investigating whether the death of 35,000 poultry in the Rostov region was caused by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, a spokesman said Wednesday.

Preliminary data from the Gulyai-Borisovskaya poultry farm in the Rostov region shows that the deaths, which began at the end of November, were caused by the virus, said Alexei Alexeyenko, a spokesman for the agency.

"There is suspicion that it is H5N1," Alexeyenko said. "We will have the results in about two days, maybe earlier. There are preliminary data but they need to be confirmed."

The outbreak, if confirmed, would be the country's fourth major instance of bird flu this year. The most recent case occurred in Krasnodar region, which borders Rostov, in September. Several hundred birds died or were culled as a result.

Krasnodar region was also the site of an outbreak of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu in January, which was followed a month later by several cases in towns in the Moscow region that were traced to the capital's best-known pet market.

In each case, authorities enforced strict quarantine measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Itar-Tass reported that all 500,000 birds at the poultry farm in the Rostov region would be culled as a precautionary measure. Russia has never had a human case of bird flu, which has killed more than 200 people worldwide since 2003. Health experts fear that the constantly mutating virus could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person.