There is no bird flu in Russia, veterinarians say

Domestic birds that have suddenly sickened and died in two villages in southern Russia this week have succumbed to avian cholera, not bird flu, the Emergency Situations Ministry and National Epidemiological Service said Friday. Sergei Petrov, a duty officer at the ministry's southern regional branch in Rostov-on-Don, said that preliminary tests on samples from the villages of Kolundayevsky and Shabliyevka indicated pasteurellosis, or avian cholera, a bacterial infection. An outbreak can kill thousands of birds.

Some 500 chickens, geese and turkeys died in Kolundayevsky, and more than 200 ducks and geese died in Shabliyevka, in the Rostov region about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Moscow, he said.

Liver samples from the dead birds have been sent to a laboratory for more analysis, he said.

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.

Meanwhile, Interfax reported that the St. Petersburg-based flu research center of the Russian Academy of Sciences would soon test a bird flu vaccine it has developed on volunteers. Researcher Irina Doroshenko said production of the vaccine could begin next year.

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.