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Sanitary chief expects bird flu in Russia, office allays fears

Russia's chief sanitary doctor said Friday outbreaks of bird flu could occur in Siberia and European Russia this summer, while Russia's agriculture competition office responded that they were fully prepared to deal with it.

Seventy-five laboratories across the nation have been upgraded to fight bird flu, Gennady Onishchenko said. „We are expecting outbreaks of bird flu primarily in some regions in Siberia and European Russia,” Onishchenko said. Nikolai Vlasov, chief vet with the Russian Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspectorate, agreed outbreaks were possible but said they were not threatening, „We know how to fight it. We are not afraid,” he said. Vlasov said they had sufficient supplies of bird flu vaccines and could inoculate 130 million birds, with reserves of 750% of the required supplies, adding Russia could offer assistance to other countries in case of emergency.

Onishchenko said that a human vaccine was already undergoing advanced clinical tests, even though no human cases have been registered in Russia so far. Last year, the virus killed 1.3 million birds in ten regions of the Southern and five of the Siberian Federal Districts. In January to February this year, outbreaks were detected in 16 cities and villages in five regions. Bird, or avian, flu was first detected in 2003 and is believed to come from influenza A H5N1 strain. To date, outbreaks and deaths have been detected in 60 countries, including such densely populated ones as Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand. The WHO estimates that bird flu has killed 171 people around the world since late 2003. (