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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Race to Keep Bird Flu From Moscow

APA police officer preventing outsiders from entering Yandovka on Thursday as smoke rises in the background from a location where fowl are being burned.
Moscow region poultry farms, which provide most of Moscow's poultry meat, scrambled on Thursday to prevent the bird flu virus from spreading from the neighboring Tula region.

The country's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, insisted that the Tula outbreak, which was confirmed late Wednesday, posed no threat to people or poultry supplies in the capital or the Moscow region.

"The mass death of poultry has been registered in the Tula region. The culling of birds is under way and will finish" later in the day, Onishchenko said Thursday. "People are undergoing medical examinations. At the moment, there is no danger to people."

Laboratory tests conducted by Rosselkhoz, the Agriculture Ministry agency that oversees produce and meat, detected the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu in samples taken from the Tula region village of Yandovka, where hundreds of chicken, geese and ducks died suddenly earlier this week.

No cases of humans contracting the virus have been reported in Russia. But the confirmation of the virus only 350 kilometers south of Moscow was the first time that it had been discovered in European Russia. The virus was found in seven Siberian regions last summer.

Onishchenko said there was no need to impose a ban on poultry supplies to Moscow and the Moscow region. "That is all nonsense. The outbreak was registered on private farms that are far from [the city of] Tula, not to mention Moscow," he said.

Onishchenko also said supplies of poultry from the Tula region would continue uninterrupted. "Eating this poultry is safe. It poses no harm to anyone, but you should not eat it raw," he said, Interfax reported. Scientists believe the virus can be transferred from live birds to humans but cannot be transferred from cooked poultry.

Farms in the Moscow region began spraying workers and vehicles with disinfectants and limiting workers' contact with birds on Thursday, said Viktor Olkhovoi, deputy head of the Moscow city government's food department. "Chicken are being kept strictly indoors as a precaution, and birds flying over the farms are being shot," Olkhovoi said.

Tatyana Grachyova, a veterinarian with the Petelinka poultry giant, based in the Moscow region's Odintsovo district, said the farm was closely following state regulations.

"We are enforcing all measures as mandated by law," Grachyova said, refusing to elaborate.

Olkhovoi said that Moscow region poultry farms provided the capital with some 100,000 tons of fresh, cooled poultry every year. Frozen poultry arrives from other regions and from abroad, he said.

"If a ban on supplies is imposed, we will be able to organize imports of poultry from other Russian regions and from abroad, mainly from Belarus," Olkhovoi said.

He said Belarus provided assistance ut after poultry supplies from the Moscow region were disrupted on May 25, when parts of the capital and the Moscow, Tula, Ryazan and Kaluga regions suffered a power outage brought on by a fire and equipment failure at a Moscow power station. Some 300,000 birds at Petelinka suffocated in their enclosures, deprived of any ventilation.

Moscow now has a stockpile of 75,000 tons of poultry.

On Thursday, the European Union said it was extending a ban on the import of poultry and feathers from Siberia to cover the whole Russia.

Onishchenko called the measure unnecessary since the EU "does not import poultry from Russia, while Russia imports some 60 percent of its domestic consumption."

He urged the EU to cooperate with Russia in monitoring wild migratory birds. He suggested that the Yandovka birds contacted the disease from migratory birds that landed on the surface of two nearby lakes.

The H5N1 virus, which first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997, can pass directly from birds to people and appears to be spreading through migrating birds. It has killed at least 61 people in Asia since 2003, and the latest victim died in Thailand on Thursday.

Tula's chief epidemiologist, Lidiya Shishkina, said that all of the 3,000 or so birds in Yandovka would be culled and that the village's 200 residents would receive compensation.

The emergence of bird flu so close to Moscow does not appear to be worrying residents. Rostik's, the fried chicken fast-food chain that uses poultry from the Moscow region, said it had not noticed any drop in business. "We think the situation is a far cry from the one in Asia," said Valeriya Silina, the communications director for Rostik Group.

She said Rostik's rigorously tested all supplies and treated its meat at temperatures of over 100 degrees Celsius, which would kill any trace of the virus.

Major supermarket chains, including Ramstore, Perekryostok and Paterson, also have not seen any drop in demand for poultry, Interfax reported.

Staff Writer Kevin O'Flynn contributed to this report.