Bird flu spreads west to Urals

Bird flu is going west. It has emerged in Chelyabinsk, the southern Urals region, a local official said Monday. The region is a big industrial center where all the previously hit by disease regions – Altai, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tyumen and Kurgan are mostly rural.

Virus killed over 300 birds in Oktyabrskoe, a spokesman for the regional department of the Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Protection and Welfare said.

The Russian Agriculture Ministry reported a suspected outbreak of bird flu in the Chelyabinsk region's Oktyabrsky district Friday.

According to the Emergency Situations Ministry, bird flu has killed over 10,000 birds in six Russian regions (the Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tyumen, Kurgan and Chelyabinsk regions and the Altai territory) since July 21, informs Ria Novosti.

According to Reuters, addressing regional health officials in a letter, Onishchenko said the disease could also hit Russia's major agricultural regions of Krasnodar, Stavropol and Rostov.

"The most likely cause of infection in the Siberian and Ural federal regions is the migration of birds from Southeast Asia and their contacts with domestic birds," stated the letter posted on the Web site of the state's consumer rights watchdog.

While listing a number of recommendations aimed at preventing humans from getting infected, he said bird migration in spring 2006 could further spread the virus in European Russia and bring more fowl viruses to Siberia from Southeast Asia.

Although no people have so far been infected in Russia and Kazakhstan, there are fears the disease could spread to humans on the Eurasian landmass, possibly unleashing a global influenza pandemic.

Chelyabinsk, separated from European Russia by the Ural mountains and technically still in Siberia, is the westernmost region to have been struck so far.

It lies about 1,000 km (600 miles) both from Moscow and the region where the first flu outbreak was reported.

"All ill and infected birds are being slaughtered there," the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

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