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H5N1 bird flu strain found in southern Russian region
Updated: 2006-02-16 20:26

The H5N1 strain of bird flu was confirmed in the Russian region of Dagestan, where hundreds of thousands of birds were found dead at poultry farms, a spokeswoman for Russia's chief epidemiologist said Thursday.

The two incidents of mass deaths in Dagestan occurred about two weeks ago and involved some 345,000 birds. Dagestan authorities initially blamed Newcastle disease, but tests were conducted to determine the cause of death.

Authorities confirmed H5N1 among the birds, said Lyubov Voropayeva, spokeswoman for the office of chief epidemiologist Gennady Onishchenko.

The southern region borders Azerbaijan, where a bird flu outbreak was confirmed this month. H5N1 was first reported in Russia last year, in Siberia, and has since appeared in several European countries.

There have been no human cases reported in Russia, though H5N1 has killed dozens of people in Asia and Turkey, with most victims infected directly by sick birds.

Scientists fear, however, that the virus could mutate into a strain more easily spread between people and spark a pandemic. Authorities are concerned about new outbreaks as migratory birds begin flying north in a few weeks. Siberia and Russia's southern regions, such as Dagestan, are prime stopover areas for migratory birds.

Onishchenko said this week that Russia is preparing to test a possible bird flu vaccine on human volunteers, and that he has proposed preparing some 100 million doses to be used on domestic fowl to help prevent the spread of the disease.

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