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Russia Begins Destroying Poultry Following Outbreak of Bird Flu

Russian authorities have begun to slaughter poultry in nearly 20 villages in the Siberian province of Novosibirsk, where a deadly strain of bird-flu virus has just been confirmed. Government health officials say there is no cause for alarm, and that all precautionary measures are being taken.

The agriculture ministry says the avian flu outbreak appears relatively contained to a Siberian region. The bad news is that preliminary tests of the samples taken from affected birds show the flu virus strain is of the deadly H5N1 type that can be transmitted to humans.

An outbreak of this flu earlier killed more than 60 people in Southeast Asia.

The Russian government has imposed a ban on the transportation of birds, bird products, and feed for domestic birds out of the affected areas, which include neighboring Omsk and Altai provinces. It has also formed a special commission made up of officials from the interior ministry, the emergency ministry, the veterinary inspectorate, and the sanitary control service.

Special units in Novosibirsk Tuesday began killing some 65,000 chickens, geese, ducks, and turkeys from family farms in the quarantine zone.

Victor Maleev is a department head at the Russian Health Ministry's Central Scientific Research Institute of Epidemiology. He tells VOA migratory birds that stop in a lake area in Novosibirsk may be responsible for the outbreak, which has already killed more than 2,000 local birds.

Mr. Maleev says to date, there have been no known cases of human-to-human transmission of bird flu. But he warns people to practice good hygiene when dealing with poultry either on the farm or preparing it in the kitchen. Mr. Maleev says people should wash their hands before and after preparing chicken, turkey or duck meat and make sure the meat is well cooked. For poultry-workers, who may come into contact with infected birds, he advises wearing protective clothing, such as gloves and a face mask. And, he says they should follow disinfection procedures after work.

Birds infected with the virus turn blue before they die. In humans, the virus causes a stomach ache and may lead to respiratory collapse.

In a related development, Kazakh media are reporting a suspected case of bird flu contracted by a poultry farm worker in a region close to the border with Novosibirsk. The government has not confirmed the reports. Experts say it could take several days before test results are known.

The arrival of bird flu virus deals a blow to the Russian poultry industry, which is already facing stiff competition from U.S. and European imports.