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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bird Flu Encircling Moscow like a Noose

Reuters reports:

Russia suspects the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu that can threaten humans has hit two more localities around Moscow after being confirmed in five other districts, a veterinary official said on Tuesday. "We are as yet unable to confirm the strain (in the two new areas), but the pattern is the same as in the previous cases," Nikolai Vlasov, head of veterinary surveillance at animal and plant health watchdog Rosselkhoznadzor, told a news briefing. He did not name the localities. All fowl at the affected farms have been culled and the farms were isolated. Russia's Emergencies Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that 190 domestic fowl had died between Feb. 10 and Feb. 19 in Moscow and six districts in the Moscow region -- Domodedovo, Odintsovo, Podolsk, Naro-Fominsk, Taldom and Volokolamsk. Rosselkhoznadzor said on Monday that H5N1 had been confirmed in the first five districts.

Later on Tuesday, Russian news agencies quoted the Moscow region's animal health service as saying 75 hens had been found dead at a private farm in another town, Ramenskoye. Vlasov said he expected more cases of bird flu to be registered in the region in the near future, all of which could be isolated and extinguished within two or three days. He said Rosselkhoznadzor expected new outbreaks of bird flu in the country and elsewhere in Europe later this year after migrating birds start arriving from the south. "We believe that new outbreaks of bird flu are possible at least in the next two years, but I think we will be able to cope with it both here and in Europe," Vlasov said. Health officials have traced all the outbreaks around the capital to birds bought in the last two weeks at Moscow's Sadovod pet market, commonly known as "Ptichka", or "Birdie". The market remained in quarantine on Tuesday.

The outbreaks are Russia's second instance of bird flu this year and the first ever recorded close to the capital. H5N1 killed poultry in three settlements in the southern region of Krasnodar last month. No human cases of bird flu have been recorded in Russia. The virus has killed 167 people worldwide since 2003, mostly in Asia and in cases where the victims had been in direct contact with infected birds. A total of 273 cases have been recorded in humans. Health experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. Five people have died from eight cases in Azerbaijan, which borders Russia to the south.

The Moscow Times adds more details:

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. 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.

Doctor: Don't get so worked up! We can't be sure whether
you have bird flu or not until we get the results of your tests.

Source: Ellustrator.

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