Russia's chief epidemiologist says bird flu vaccine tests to begin in April

Russia plans to begin human tests of a potential bird flu vaccine in April, the country's chief epidemiologist said Tuesday.

Russian news agencies quoted Gennady Onishchenko as saying that the tests will be conducted on volunteers and "over a period of five weeks we will observe how the people's immune systems react."

The reports did not specify how the volunteers would be solicited or how the vaccine would be administered.

Russia first reported the H5N1 bird flu strain, which can kill humans, appearing in Siberia in July and it has since been recorded in other parts of the country. No human deaths from the virus have been reported in Russia.

But Onishchenko was quoted as warning that the virus could again begin spreading this spring as birds begin northern migration from their winter nesting grounds in Africa.

The migration routes do not cross the heavily populated areas around Moscow, "but a few (of the birds) could fly here," he said, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency.

In the Caspian Sea region of Dagestan, meanwhile, officials said massive poultry deaths at two farms have been attributed to Newcastle disease, denying reports that said crows with bird flu symptoms were found at one of the farms.

Newcastle disease is a contagious viral disorder that poses no danger to humans.

In neighboring Ukraine, President Viktor Yushchenko said Tuesday that his country and Russia would create a joint commission to fight bird flu. In December, the disease was recorded on the Ukraine's Black Sea Crimean Peninsula, reports AP.

O.Ch.