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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Deadly Bird Flu Found Near Moscow

ReutersA health worker on Saturday disinfecting an entrance to the avian flu quarantine zone near the village of Pavlovskoye, located some 20 kilometers from Moscow.
An avian flu outbreak in the Moscow region over the weekend has been traced to a single market, a senior official said Sunday.

The four cases of dead poultry involved birds that had been bought at a market located in southwest Moscow, Alexei Alexeyenko, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry's animal and plant inspection agency, told The Associated Press.

Alexeyenko said the market had been closed Saturday and that experts were working to pinpoint the source of the birds, the AP reported.

If the presence of H5N1 -- a strain of avian flu that can be contracted by humans -- is confirmed, it would be the first outbreak of the disease to be recorded near the capital. Since it began infecting Asian poultry in 2003, the H5N1 strain has killed 167 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

A number of poultry farms around Moscow were placed under quarantine over the weekend after the authorities confirmed an outbreak of bird flu in the region. But some confusion surrounded the confirmation of the H5N1 strain, with officials contradicting one another.

Alexeyenko confirmed that the H5N1 strain had been found at two locations, Reuters reported Saturday.

But Valery Sitnikov, the chief veterinary inspector for the Moscow region, said the strain of the virus would not be identified until Monday.

"On Monday, the identification of this virus, whether it is H5N1 and how virulent it is, will be made," Sitnikov said. "As yet the analysis is only preliminary, but nonetheless in the central Moscow region we have implemented all measures fully."

"The situation is under control -- the veterinary service is in control of everything," Sitnikov said. "Measures to vaccinate birds will begin tomorrow."

Television footage Sunday showed veterinary workers in protective suits checking homes in the district and spraying vehicle tires with disinfectant.

Sitnikov said he was optimistic that further outbreaks of the virus in the Moscow region could be prevented.

"We hope that the chain of events has been stopped. The Moscow market where the infected birds were bought has been shut down and I hope that we have stopped things," Sitnikov said.

Despite of the uncertainty surrounding the outbreak, industry specialists are confident that there is not likely to be any decline in demand for poultry.

"I think that consumer demand for chicken will not fall," said Rinat Mustayev, the editor of a web site for the poultry industry, Mustayev added that when bird flu appeared in Russia in 2005, demand fell by between 15 percent and 18 percent, but soon returned to its former levels and even higher.

Sitnikov was unable to comment on where the infected birds had come from, saying the matter was being investigated by the appropriate government agency.

Ivan Sekretarev / AP
A veterinary official wearing a protective suit working in Pavlovskoye, where some domestic fowl died from bird flu.
"If traces of the virus appear at the poultry market, we cannot exclude the possibility that there will be new outbreaks. But there should be no panic because conditions in Russia, especially in the winter, mean that there is not even any theoretical possibility of human infection," senior government veterinarian Nikolai Vlasov said in televised comments, the AP reported.

"People are not sick here. [The disease has only been found] among the birds," said Andrei Barkovsky, spokesman for the Moscow regional governor.

A resident of the village of Shikhovo, near Zvenigorod, bought a bird at a market in Moscow and a few days later chickens started to die at his farm, a statement posted on the Odintsovo region's web site said.

"The ... farmer brought the dead birds to the management of the market," the statement said, to claim compensation where he found out that the bird was a carrier of the virus.

Symptoms of the virus afflicting poultry include difficulty in breathing, lack of coordination when moving and a discharge from nasal passages.

The Moscow region has offered a series of guidelines, including avoiding contact with wild fowl and only buying bird meat or eggs in official marketplaces.

"I can't exclude the possibility of bioterrorism. In that case, the Federal Security Service and other law enforcement agencies will have to be involved," Sitnikov was quoted as saying by Ekho Moskvy radio.

But Oleg Kiselyov, who heads the Federal Flu Research Institute, dismissed the idea that the flu could be linked to terrorism.

He also said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on Sunday that Russian scientists had already designed a vaccine for both humans and birds.

The outbreak of bird flu in the Moscow region is the second case in Russia this year.

On Jan. 29, the H5N1 virus was found at three locations in the southern Krasnodar region.