Ukraine's Health Ministry confirms deadly H5N1 strain in Crimea

Ukraine's Health Ministry confirmed Wednesday that the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in 11 Crimean villages. The strain was confirmed by Russian laboratory tests as being present in 11 out of the 25 villages where bird deaths have been recorded on the Black Sea peninsula, said spokeswoman Anna Trubachova. A Russian veterinary official last week had provided similar confirmation, citing tests conducted at a Russian laboratory. But Ukraine had earlier refused to confirm the report, saying they were waiting for results from a British laboratory.

Trubachova said that the confirmation of the H5N1 virus came from the Russian laboratory. Ukraine recorded its first case of bird flu on Dec. 4 as some 2,500 birds died on the Black Sea peninsula. The area affected is covered by marshy wetlands near the Azov Sea and is a popular resting place for migratory birds.

So far all the cases of confirmed bird flu have been confined to those three regions where the virus first appeared, but reports of dead birds have spread to other parts of the peninsula. 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, health and emergency officials said. Some 26,073 people have been given urgent flu vaccinations, and 513 people who had close contact with the dead birds are under special observation, the Emergency Situations Ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

After the initial outbreak, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko declared a state of emergency on the peninsula. Authorities began a mandatory cull, killing 53,399 birds as of Wednesday, emergency officials said, reports the AP. I.L.

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