Russian officials are working to confirm the first possible outbreak at a commercial poultry farm of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu virus, which can be transmitted to humans. Authorities say the bird flu has already killed hundreds of thousands of birds in Russia.
Tests to confirm the virus infecting the birds is the H5N1 strain are expected to take at least another week. But to be safe, Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry has ordered the closing of the affected poultry farm, which reportedly supplies about 100 million eggs to the Russian market each year.
It is a small portion of the trade, given that Russia's poultry farms, overall, produce about 36.5 billion eggs for sale each year. But the concern among villagers and farm workers is palpable.
One woman who works at the affected farm in Kurgan expresses her dismay. In comments broadcast on Russian television, the woman says officials first said everything was okay. Now, she says, they seem unsure. "And what can we do?" She says farm workers have now been told to start killing all the birds.
Russian specialists say up to 500,000 birds may be affected, and there is concern in Russia and elsewhere about possible bird to human transmission.
Federal veterinary inspector Ivan Rozhdestvensky says he is not surprised by the outbreak, which many of his colleagues presumed was just a matter of time. But he says he is surprised to find local officials so unprepared to deal with the problem.
Mr. Rozhdestvensky says the factory offers no sanitary inspection rooms, and that company officials never bothered to check, which employees were keeping birds at home. A number of cases of bird flu have been found in private households.
The head of Kurgan's Agricultural Department, Nikolai Loginov, says it may already be too late to save the industrial farm. Mr. Loginov tells Russian TV the farm will most likely be liquidated in a matter of days. He says officials can't risk the chance of the the deadly version of the virus spreading from this farm to others, or even worse, to humans.
Bird flu first appeared in Russia in July. Since that time, hundreds-of-thousands of birds have either died from the virus or been ordered killed. But there has been no known case of human deaths from bird flu.
The outbreak is especially tough for Russia, as it already relies heavily on poultry imports to meet Russian demand.