Bird flu symptoms in dead birds in Azerbaijan

The Health Ministry said Friday that a British laboratory has confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in dead birds from Azerbaijan 's Caspian Sea coast. Private television channels urged viewers not to prepare poultry dishes and broadcast descriptions of bird flu symptoms, while the Health and Agriculture Ministries appealed to people to avoid contact with foul and to isolate domestic poultry from wild birds.

Part of Azerbaijan shares a short border with eastern Turkey , where four children died after becoming infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. The first case of mass deaths among birds was registered in the autumn in the Nakhichivan region, bordering Turkey . More deaths occurred in December and January, but health authorities insisted that the birds had not been infected with avian flu and said there was no cause for concern.

Still, at the urging of the U.S. government, Azerbaijan sent samples from dead birds to a European Union laboratory in Weybridge , England , for additional tests, said the former Soviet republic's chief epidemiologist, Viktor Kasumov, late last month.

According to local media, within just two to four days at the beginning of this month, the carcasses of thousands of dead migratory birds were found floating along the sea coast near the northern Khachmas and Devechi districts. Mass bird deaths have also been registered in southern and western districts. The dead birds include crows and swans.

Samaya Mammadova, spokeswoman for the Health Ministry, said the Weybridge laboratory had confirmed the H5N1 strain in wild birds on the Absheron Peninsula , which includes the capital Baku and surrounding villages. It has not yet delivered a finding on samples taken from domestic poultry found dead in the southern Masalli district at the end of December and beginning of January.

"No cases among humans have been recorded, and medical services are taking all necessary preventive measures," the Health and Agriculture Ministries said in a joint statement.

They called on people to inform their local state veterinary services of any deaths among birds. About 200,000 migratory birds spend the winter in the environs of Baku, on the Caspian Sea shore, and Azerbaijan hosts up to 1.3 million water birds each winter, second only to Britain, said Elchin Sultanov, the head of Azerbaijan's Ornithological Society.

Sultanov said the country was unprepared to cope with an outbreak and that no public awareness campaigns have been launched in the region. "People are absolutely unprepared," Sultanov said. "It's necessary to get educational work under way immediately."

Officials have designated sites to burn dead birds in the event of bird flu outbreaks in those districts, Mammadova said. Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form spread easily among humans, triggering a pandemic capable of killing millions. The virus has a limited ability to jump from poultry to people and has killed at least 88 people in east Asia and Turkey since 2003. There is no evidence yet to suggest it can spread from human to human, reports the AP.


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