Veterinary officials are conducting tests in a southern Russian village to determine whether 120 waterfowl that died suddenly there had contracted bird flu, the Interfax news agency reported Friday. The bird deaths in the village of Shabliyevka were the second case of bird illness to be registered in recent days in the Rostov region, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Moscow, Interfax said.
It quoted regional emergency department spokesman Alexander Buzhak as saying that veterinarians had gone to the village to search for signs of bird flu.
Meanwhile, the Emergency Situations Ministry said Friday that, according to a preliminary diagnosis, the deaths of up to 150 domestic birds in Kolundayevsky, another village in the Rostov region, were not tied with bird flu. It said they had fallen victim to pasteurellosis, or fowl cholera, a bacterial infection that usually leads to pneumonia. Blood samples from the dead birds were still under examination at a regional laboratory.
Veterinary officials this week have culled about 3,000 domestic birds in the village of Yandovka, about 350 kilometers (200 miles) south of Moscow, after confirming that poultry there had been infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Further tests are needed to confirm the finding and determine whether it is the same H5N1 strain that has devastated flocks in Asia since 2003. If so, it would mark the first appearance of the virus in European Russia, west of the Ural Mountains.
Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday that officials should not concentrate their efforts on allaying fears, but instead on formulating measures to prevent bird flu from spreading.
"I do not agree with those who come out with appeasing phrases like these, and I quote: 'I will skin it and eat it in your presence,"' Interfax quoted Shoigu as saying.
He was apparently referring to an earlier statement by the country's top public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, who urged people not to panic over reports of bird flu, the AP reports.
Global health experts are keeping a close eye on H5N1, fearing it could mutate and trigger a pandemic. Scientists also are working on creating an H5N1 vaccine for humans.
The Asian H5N1 strain was detected in Siberia in July. H5N1 has killed some 60 people in Asia, most of them poultry farmers directly infected by birds.