Ukrainian authorities destroy more than 50,000 birds

Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday completed the mandatory cull of birds in five of the 12 Crimean villages where the bird flu outbreak has been confirmed, emergency officials said. A total of 50,786 birds have been destroyed and their carcasses burned since the outbreak was first recorded on Dec. 4 on the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine's top emergency official, Viktor Baloga, confirmed Monday that the outbreak had expanded to at least 12 villages, although all are located in three regions where the virus first appeared. The area is covered by marshy wetlands near the Azov Sea and is a popular resting place for migratory birds.

Ten other places in the Crimea have reported mass bird deaths, and are under investigation, emergency and health officials have said. Crimea's regional capital, Simferopol, is one of the areas being monitored. It was not immediately clear how many birds had died. A Russian veterinary official said last week that tests confirmed Ukraine had the deadly Asian strain; Ukraine has refused to confirm the report, saying they are waiting for results from a British laboratory, due later 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. Some 25,284 people have been given urgent flu vaccinations, and 436 people, who had close contact with the dead birds, are under special observation, the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement, reports the AP. I.L.

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