Ukraine Fears Bird Flu Outbreak As Fowl Found Dead In 21 Locations

KIEV, Ukraine - Ukraine's bird flu outbreak appeared to have escalated Monday as health officials reported new cases of domestic foul found dead in two cities and 19 villages on the Crimean peninsula.

Ukrainian Emergency Ministry workers take domestic fowl away from a farm in the village of Yemelyanovka some 800 km (500 miles) south of the capital Kiev

The bird flu virus had been confirmed only in nine of the villages, said Irina Shakhno, spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry's Crimean office.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that reports were coming in about domestic birds found dead in 10 other villages, the regional capital, Simferopol, and another city, Feodosiya. It was not immediately clear how many birds had died.

The Agriculture Ministry's Veterinary Department reported birds had been found dead in unusually high numbers in 17 locations, but did not explain the discrepancy between its figures and those of the Health Ministry.

A special laboratory was set up in Simferopol to test the new samples.

The reports of new bird deaths first surfaced on Saturday. If tests confirm the birds died of bird flu, it would mean a spread of the virus on the Crimea beyond the marsh lands near the Azov Sea.

Ukraine announced its first case of bird flu on Dec. 4, revealing that some 2,500 domestic fowl had died suddenly in a marsh area on the peninsula. Some 37,405 domestic fowl have been slaughtered as part of a mandatory cull.

More than 11,000 people have been vaccinated against flu in the affected villages, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

On Friday, a Russian laboratory said it had confirmed the virus was the same strain that decimated flocks in Asia, but Ukrainian officials said they waited for findings from Britain.

Experts fear the strain H5N1 could trigger a human flu pandemic if it mutates into a form that is easily spread between people. Since 2003, the virus has killed at least 69 people in Asia - most of them farm workers who came into close contact with infected birds.

No cases of human infection have been recorded in Ukraine, officials said. Medical examinations have been conducted on 61,778 people.

President Viktor Yushchenko imposed a state of emergency and quarantine in three Crimean regions after last week's outbreak.

Source: AP