British Experts Confirm H5N1 Bird Flu In Crimea

KIEV, Ukraine -- British specialists have confirmed a bird flu strain, known as H5N1, in the Crimea, the Ministry for Agrarian Policy said on Saturday. “We have received a telephone message from England, saying that the selected samples of dead birds from the Crimea showed the presence of the H5N1 bird flu strain,” ministry spokesman Alexander Gorobets said.

Ukrainian workers collect poultry for extermination in Omelyanivka. A British lab considered a foremost authority on bird flu has confirmed the presence of the deadly H5N1 strain in Ukraine's Crimea.

Earlier, Russian experts in Vladimir had confirmed the H5N1 strain in the Crimea.

The head of the regional commission of the International Epizootic Bureau for Europe, Nikolai Belev, who visited Ukraine this week, said the Russian findings needed no confirmation.

Since December 3, when a state of emergency was imposed in the Crimea, over 60,000 domestic fowls have been confiscated and destroyed at 6,300 households in the Crimea. Authorities have paid about 250,000 U.S. dollars in compensation to owners. Over 29,000 people have been vaccinated, including 5,000 children. No people with avian flu symptoms have been registered.

The ban on fowl trade remains in effect.

Seventy-two poultry and meat processing facilities in the Donetsk, Zaporozhye, Nikolayev, Odessa, and Kherson regions have been inspected over the past 24 hours. Forty-six violations were reported, and administrative proceedings were instituted against 40 people.

However Agricultural Policy Minister Alexander Baranivsky said earlier that the situation at poultry farms raised no concerns. “We see no threat there,” he said.

The minister also assured the population that “there is no threat to people”.

He said the virus dies at the temperature of 70 degrees Celsius above zero, and there is no risk of getting infected through food. However he urged people in the Crimea to minimise contact with fowl.

Some countries may ban poultry imports from Ukraine. However Baranivsky believes these measures will not affect the Ukrainian market of poultry that is supplied mainly to domestic consumers.

He said fowl consumption in Ukraine is growing. In the first 10 months of 2005, poultry production increased by 80,000 tonnes from the same period of last year.

The minister announced a ban on fowl hunting in the Crimea.

Meanwhile authorities have imposed quarantine in the affected Crimean villages.

Avian flu was detected in the domestic fowl in four more villages on December 16, thus bringing the total number of infected settlements to 15.

Experts of the World Health Organisation arrived in Ukraine on Monday to study the bird flu situation in the Crimea where a state of emergency remains in effect.

It was imposed on December 3 by President Viktor Yushchenko after a special meeting he had summoned to discuss how to prevent the spread of avian flu in the Crimea.

He also ordered the creation of an emergency response team that will determine the boundaries of the affected area. The team will be headed by deputy ministers of interior affairs, health, agriculture, environment, and finance, as well as the Crimean prime minister.

The president ordered the interior minister to establish a three-kilometre quarantine zone and a 10-kilometre observation zone around the affected settlements.

Yushchenko ordered authorities to compensate the owners of slain fowl at market prices.

He said authorities “are taking all measures to normalise life in the Crimean villages”.

He urged activists and mass media to join ranks against the disease and step up explanatory work among the population.

At the end of September, ornithologists warned about a possible outbreak of avian flu in the Crimea. Poultry farms started taking precautions after the warning.

The Crimea has always been a transit point for migrant birds on their way to the Mediterranean, Africa, and America in the autumn, and back in the spring. Each time, up to half a million ducks, geese, and swans make stopovers on Lake Sivash.

Specialists blame the spread of the virus on contacts between domestic fowl and migrant birds.

Source: ITAR-Tass