08/18/2005, 00.00
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Bird flu: from Siberia to Europe

The Russian Emergencies Ministry has declared that the H5N1 virus has been found in Chelyabinsk at the heart of the geographic divide between Asia and Europe. According to experts, the virus could move towards Africa and Europe in autumn.

Moscow (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Russian government has ordered the immediate slaughter of more than 11,000 birds in the Ural mountains range after some which died of bird flu were found in the area. This was declared by the Russian Emergencies Ministry, which also said it had located the strain of the H5N1 virus in the city of Chelyabinsk in the heart of the geographical divide between Asia and Europe. Government representatives denied that human beings have been struck by the disease.

The virus had already been located in mid-July in Novosibirsk, around 1000km from Chelyabinsk. "Adequate measures are being taken to prevent the spread of infection among domestic birds and to exclude the possibility of human contagion," declared the ministry. Measures consist of a ban on the sale of poultry in the area and setting up barriers in the streets.

Russian Agriculture Ministry representatives say bird flu reached the area through migratory birds coming from China and south-east Asia. Experts fear – given the migration of tens of millions of birds – that the H5N1 could reach Europe, the Middle-East and Africa in the coming months. "

"This is a global process and all of Asia is involved in it and soon perhaps not only Asia," Nikolai Vlasov, a deputy federal animal health official, was quoted as saying.  He said there was no way of blocking migratory routes.

Gennady Onishchenko, one of Russia's top epidemiologists, said birds would migrate from the Ural mountains towards warmer areas – south Russia, Africa and Europe – in the coming autumn after first nesting in Siberia.

After the outbreak of the epidemic in 2003, confirmed deaths from bird flu in Asia added up to 62. Of these, 43 died in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand, four in Cambodia and three in Indonesia.

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