Ukraine: first case of bird flu records; president Yushchenko orders state of emergency

Ukraine recorded its first bird flu outbreak on Saturday, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency in four Crimean villages following the deaths of more than 1,600 chickens and geese.

Dead birds in the Black Sea peninsula tested positive for the H5 subtype, officials said. Bird flu had already been detected in neighboring Romania nearly two months ago, and Ukrainian officials scrambled to reassure this nation of 47 million that they were well-prepared. Ukrainians, meanwhile, began debating whether to stop buying poultry the only meat many in this poor nation can afford.

Samples were sent to laboratories in Italy and Britain for further tests to determine whether the disease could be the deadly H5N1 strain, which is being monitored for fear it could mutate into a form that is easily transferable among humans. The results are expected by Thursday, Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivsky said.

Domestic fowl began dying in Ukraine's Crimean region on Oct. 18, but the deaths increased significantly last month, rising to 1,621. Positive test results for the H5 strain came back Saturday, Baranivsky said. He attributed the bird flu to contact between migratory birds at the Crimea's Lake Savash and domestic fowl. The peninsula had been seen as an area of special concern for authorities because it is a landing spot for many migratory birds.

Under the state-of-emergency ordered by President Viktor Yushchenko, no one will be allowed to enter or leave the quarantine, and experts will visit every home to inform residents to count flocks. All birds even if healthy will be slaughtered, starting Sunday and their carcasses burned. Residents will be compensated as much as 10 hryvna (about US$2; Ђ2) for each culled bird, Baranivsky said.

The state of emergency also sets up a larger 10-kilometer (6-mile) zone that will be put under close monitoring.

Olha Rohatyna, 58, who lives in one of the infected villages and keeps about 30 birds, told The Associated Press by telephone that she knew little about the situation except for what she had seen on television. "But we are not scared. The main thing is that everyone is alive," she said. Rohatyna said she knew birds were dying in big numbers in another part of her village, which stretches about 7 kilometers (4 miles).

"It's a frightening, lightning-fast form (of the virus)," Maria Trukhanovskaya, chief veterinary official of the Crimea region, said in televised comments.

Ukraine began preparing for bird flu when the virus turned up in neighboring Romania and Turkey, located across the Black Sea. The country ordered bird farms into a lockdown and demanded that all domestic fowl be kept inside.

On Saturday, officials prohibited all sales of domestic fowl and poultry products in the Crimea.

Natasha Kosyleva, a 25-year-old shopping in downtown Kiev, said she was concerned that people will sell infected birds at small outside markets. Her parents live in the Crimean city of Yalta. "We have many small poultry farms in Crimea and for our poor people, it is the only source to earn money to feed their families," she said. "I heard this awful news on TV and immediately called my parents to ask them not to eat poultry", reported AP. P.T.

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