H5N1 strain of avian flu confirmed 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 fowl 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 Qasimov.

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.

Qasimov said that Azerbaijan had so far received results on 14 of 50 samples of tissue from wild and domestic birds that it had sent to the Weybridge laboratory. "The bird flu virus was found in wild birds, swans and ducks," he said. "The process is continuing. In coming days we'll get more answers."

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, reports the AP.


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