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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scientist: Russia Lacks Bird Flu Drugs

ReutersVet Andrei Bezrukov, left, and farmworker Alexandra Usachyova taking blood from an ostrich Monday near Moscow.
A leading Russian health researcher on Tuesday warned that the country had no stockpile of anti-viral drugs capable of controlling a possible bird flu pandemic, despite assurances by government officials that such a stockpile was being prepared.

Dmitry Lvov, director of the Virology Research Institute, said that Russia, unlike some other countries such as the United States, was not rushing to stockpile anti-viral drugs to guard against the chance of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus spreading between people.

"During the first six months of a pandemic, there would be no vaccine," Lvov said, Interfax reported. "But people would need to be saved even then, and for that there should be a strategic stockpile of anti-viral drugs available."

Lvov said that while some drugs available in Russia, including Remantadin, had been found to be effective against bird flu, they were not being produced in the country. Remantadin is made in China and Arbidol, another popular anti-viral drug, is made in Israel.

The country's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, said in December that the government would start stockpiling anti-viral drugs.

Onishchenko's spokeswoman, Lyubov Voropayeva, said Tuesday that the government was stockpiling anti-virals, but declined to elaborate.

"Stockpiling is in progress, I do not know what Mr. Lvov meant," Voropayeva said.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu is thought to have killed 93 people worldwide since 2003. The virus, first detected in 1997, has spread from birds to domestic animals and to people, and scientists fear it might become communicable from person to person.

Bird flu spread through several Russian regions last year, but no humans were infected. After new outbreaks were recorded in recent weeks in several southern regions, hundreds of thousands of birds were slaughtered.

In January, the government announced a plan to spend $40 million on bird flu prevention. Last year, the United States announced that it would spend $4 billion on Tamiflu and other anti-viral drugs, and would take other steps to prepare for a possible pandemic.

According to the Emergency Situations Ministry's worst-case scenario for a bird flu pandemic among humans, about 27 million Russians could catch the virus, and about 70 percent of those infected, or 19 million people, could die.

Last month, President Vladimir Putin ordered the Cabinet to set up a bird flu task force. Putin recommended that a senior minister head the group.

Lvov also warned Tuesday that the bird flu virus could probably survive in water. "Each closed water reservoir where a bird that contracted avian flu excreted, from the Arctic to Russia's southern borders, has turned into a delayed-action mine. During a cold winter, the virus could remain in the water for months," he said.