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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Masked Workers Clean Up Bird Market

MTWorkers carting away refuse to be burned at the Bird Market on Tuesday.
Veterinary workers wearing masks and white protective suits carted off refuse and burned it Tuesday inside the quarantined section of the popular Bird Market as guards patrolled the perimeter.

But other parts of the market, which has been linked to an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu, remained open for business, with sellers hawking dogs, cats and fish.

"Of course it doesn't affect the dogs," saleswoman Maria Ivanova said, sitting in front of a cage of playful Alsatian puppies selling for $200 each.

"They've said the quarantine of the bird section will last 21 days, and I'm not at all worried about it. It's the poor birds I feel sorry for," she said.

All 1,924 birds found in the market had been culled by Tuesday morning, city veterinary official Sergei Filatov said.

All of the infected birds that were found in five villages in the Moscow region were bought at the bird section of the Sadovod complex, located just southeast of the Moscow Ring Road.

The deadly virus might have spread to two more locations in the region, state veterinary official Nikolai Vlasov said Tuesday. "We are unable to confirm the strain, but the pattern is the same as in the previous cases," he said, Reuters reported.

A Sadovod market spokesman insisted that it was perfectly safe to come to market and buy other animals. "Apart from the section selling birds, the rest of the market is working and it is fine to buy animals there," he said.

Federal and foreign experts rated the risk from low to nonexistent.

"Hamsters and dogs are not able to catch the virus. There is a small probability that cats that have eaten a lot of infected meat could get sick, but cats will not catch the disease from them, nor will people," said Alexei Alekseyenko, spokesman for the Federal Service for Veterinarian and Vegetation Sanitary Supervision.

World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thompson agreed that the most likely way for cats to be infected by the virus was to eat infected bird carcasses but was more circumspect about the danger of infected animals.

"There is no indication that cats can or have [passed on the virus to humans], but that is still an open question because this is a virus which hasn't been around very long, especially in animals such as cats," he said.

Moscow residents are getting more cautionary advice on a telephone hotline set up by the Moscow region veterinary service to deal with bird flu inquiries. "You'd be better off just going to a regular pet store," a woman who answered the hotline said Tuesday.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Guards patrolling the perimeter of the quarantined section of the market.
The Bird Market has a checkered history. Viewed as a flea market where people could buy hard-to-find pets during the Soviet period, the market was moved to its current location after city officials closed down its previous site nearer to the city center in 2002 due to health worries.

Yevgeny Duka, a veterinarian with the state veterinary service, said that although controls were tight for people selling animals inside the new Bird Market, no such checks existed for people selling animals beyond the perimeter of the official market.

"The problem is that people sell animals next to the official part of the market, and nobody can control them there," he said.

Guards patrolling the quarantine zone at the market seemed unfazed by the cleanup.

"I've been told to stand here and not let people in, and that's what I'm doing. I'm not thinking of any danger," said Igor Pavlenko, a guard wearing a protective mask over his nose and mouth.

A market saleswoman also said there was nothing to worry about. She spoke as she stroked the head of a stray dog at her stall selling chunks of meat for dog food. "No, the dog has not been in the quarantined area," she added.

Staff Writer Svetlana Osadchuk contributed to this report.