Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-10-Azerbaijan reports bird flu outbreak in wild birds

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-10-Azerbaijan reports bird flu outbreak in wild birds

BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan said on Friday the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu had been found in wild birds on the Caspian Sea.

Samples from the birds were sent for tests to London and showed the bird flu strain was present, a spokesman for the Health Ministry said.

"In some analyses the H5N1 bird flu strain was found," the spokesman told Reuters. " Bird flu has not yet been found in the human population."

Azerbaijan, which has borders with Turkey, Russia, Iran, Armenia and Georgia, has been testing birds after poultry deaths in the south of the country.

Four people have died in neighboring Turkey from an outbreak of the virus that is concentrated in the east of the country.

While the H5N1 virus mostly affects birds, it has killed at least 88 people in seven countries since it re-emerged in late 2003, with most victims in east Asia.

There is no evidence yet that the virus has mutated to the point that it could spread from human to human, a nightmare scenario for many experts.

H5N1 avian influenza has spread rapidly from Southeast Asia into Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Africa, killing or prompting the culling of hundreds of millions of birds.

Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea are both a destination and a major migration route for many birds from Russia and Asia seeking a warmer winter in Africa and Europe.

DOMESTIC POULTRY

With wild birds infected, health officials said they feared the virus could spread to domestic poultry.

Poultry farms outside Baku, the capital on the shores of the Caspian, cater for the demands of the urban population while many rural Azeris keep chickens at home.

"There is a risk that bird flu could spread to domestic birds and then if there is contact with people then to humans," Pavel Ursu, the acting head of the World Health Organization in Azerbaijan, told Reuters in an interview.

"Measures must be taken to stop the virus where it is," he said.

Chicken was on sale at markets in Baku on Friday and still on the menu in restaurants.

Poultry deaths were reported in the south of the country last month but tests later showed bird flu was not present.

"The Health Ministry is taking preventative measures and has appealed to the population to avoid contact with wild birds and to keep domestic poultry indoors," the ministry spokesman told Reuters.

There was no information about where on the Caspian Sea the wild bird samples that tested positive had been taken from.

Understanding Avian Influenza