Ukraine's bird flu outbreak expands to 12 Crimean villages

The outbreak of &to=' target=_blank>bird flu in Ukraine has expanded to at least 12 villages on the Crimean peninsula, the country's top emergency official said Monday, while nine other places have reported mass bird deaths.

"Today we have bird flu in 12 locations," Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloga told journalists after returning from the Black Sea peninsula, where officials have been working to stem the outbreak since it was first recorded in six villages on Dec. 4.

Four new locations recorded mass bird deaths, the Health Ministry said Monday, bringing the total to 19 villages and two cities. Tests for bird flu are continuing.

Among the areas still being monitored were the regional capital, Simferopol, and another city, Feodosiya. It was not immediately clear how many birds had died.

Ukraine announced its first case of bird flu on Dec. 4, revealing that some 2,500 domestic fowl had died suddenly in a marsh area near the Azov Sea. Some 37,405 domestic fowl have been slaughtered as part of a mandatory cull.

More than 11,000 people have been vaccinated against flu in the affected villages, government official said, and World Health Organization experts arrived to examine the situation and to assist in efforts to stop the infection's spread.

On Friday, a Russian laboratory said it had confirmed the virus was the same strain that decimated flocks in Asia, but Ukrainian officials said they were waiting for findings from a British laboratory, due this week.

Experts fear the H5N1 strain of bird flu could trigger a human flu pandemic if it mutates into a form that is easily spread between people. Since 2003, the virus has killed at least 69 people in Asia _ most of them farm workers who came into close contact with infected birds.

No cases of human infection have been recorded in Ukraine, officials said. Medical examinations have been conducted on 61,778 people.

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