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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chicken Eaters Told to Relax

Authorities will reserve 300,000 hospital beds in the spring to deal with a possible flu epidemic, a leading consumer rights activist said Thursday.

Nevertheless, the public has no reason to panic about humans contracting bird flu, Dmitry Yanin, chairman of the International Confederation of Consumer Protection Organizations, told reporters at a news briefing.

On Thursday, the appearance of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu was reported in the village of Rotovka, in the Omsk region. Outbreaks of bird flu have also been discovered in the Tula region.

"The government is preparing for the worst, but the danger of an avian flu epidemic is quite exaggerated," Yanin said. One of the precautionary measures taken was reserving 300,000 beds for next spring, when returning migratory birds could spread the virus.

The H5N1 virus is thought to have caused the deaths of at least 60 people in Asia since 2003.

It appears that avian flu can only spread from live birds to people. But scientists warn that if the virus mutates in such a way to spread from person to person, the disease could spread quickly.

"With normal preparations, the government will be able to avoid an epidemic," Yanin said.

Stricter controls are already being carried out at the country's poultry plants, said Lyudmila Abramova, a senior expert at the Russian Poultry Union. Employees who raise birds at home are being denied access to farms, she said, and all equipment is disinfected upon entering and leaving plants.

"All poultry on the shelves of Russian stores has passed strict veterinary and sanitary control," Abramova said at the briefing.

Media reports are exaggerating the danger of avian flu, making both foreign and domestic players in Russia's $5 billion poultry market edgy about potential losses, said Albert Davleyev, spokesman for the International Poultry Development Program, the U.S. poultry lobby's Russian arm.

"When people get nervous, the market stagnates," he said. It was too early to quantify any financial losses to producers because of recent media attention to avian flu, he said.

"Consumption has somewhat dropped, but there are refrigerators. The hype will eventually pass," Abramova said.

Russian producers, who control about 53 percent of the domestic poultry market, plan to produce 1.37 million tons of poultry this year, 15 percent more than in 2004, according to the Russian Poultry Union.

Despite the flu scare, poultry is still more likely than other meats to pass government tests on chemical and bio-safety, Yanin said.

Fish is about three times as likely to fail tests for harmful bacteria and other unsafe substances, compared to poultry, he said. Pork and beef are about twice as likely to fail. Nevertheless, Yanin urged consumers not to eat undercooked poultry or raw eggs.

 A St. Petersburg-based research institute will test a vaccine against avian flu for human beings by the end of this year, the institute's head, Oleg Kiselyov, said Thursday, Interfax reported.

"By March -- that is by the beginning of the spring bird migration -- we should begin manufacturing it," he said.