Ukrainian president heads to Crimea because of bird flu

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko headed to Crimea on Monday to inspect efforts to contain a large outbreak of bird flu in the Black Sea region. Yushchenko was expected to visit Nekrasivka, one of the worst-infected villages, where 1,351 fowl had died as of Monday morning. Ukraine officially recorded its first case of bird flu type H5 on Saturday, and Yushchenko declared a state of emergency and quarantine on parts of the Crimean peninsula. It was the first appearance of bird flu in this ex-Soviet republic, which borders the European Union.

Samples from the dead birds have been sent to laboratories in Italy and Britain 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. Results are expected by Thursday.

At least 69 people have died from the H5N1 bird flu virus since it emerged in Asia in 2003, and the deadly strain has been recorded in birds in Romania, Turkey, Croatia and Russia.

Ukrainian officials acknowledged Saturday that they had begun recording large numbers of dead birds in October, but only received positive confirmation of bird flu on Saturday. The center of the outbreak is Lake Sivash, a marshy region on the peninsula popular with migratory birds.

Ukrainian authorities began culling and burning fowl on Sunday. Television showed footage of emergency workers clad in white protective suits in village courtyards, as domestic fowl scrambled around them.

Authorities have said that no human infections have been recorded. Yushchenko had initially planned on Monday to visit the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear accident, to inspect continuing efforts to cope with the aftermath of the 1986 explosion. But after the outbreak of bird flu, he changed his plans and decided to head to Crimea, his spokeswoman said, reports the AP. I.L.

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