(Adds two cases of bird flu confirmed as H5N1)
By Robin Paxton
MOSCOW, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Poultry farms around Moscow were under tight control on Saturday when two cases of bird flu near the capital were confirmed as being the deadly H5N1 strain.
Russia’s animal and plant health watchdog, Rosselkhoznadzor, said the positive tests came from dead birds found in two villages near Moscow.
"It was confirmed as H5N1," said Alexei Alexeyenko, press secretary for Rosselkhoznadzor. "Tomorrow we will do more tests and be able to determine how dangerous the virus is."
No human cases of bird flu have been recorded in Russia.
The outbreak is Russia’s second this year and the first ever recorded close to the capital. The highly pathogenic H5N1 strain killed poultry in three settlements in the southern region of Krasnodar last month.
People who had been in contact with the more than 30 dead birds were taken to hospital as a precautionary measure but showed no signs of any illness, he said.
Alexeyenko said the dead birds had been traced to a market on the outskirts of Moscow and had been brought there from other Russian regions.
Poultry which had been in contact with the dead birds had been culled and strict sanitary measures were in place in the two affected villages -- Pavlovskoye, south of Moscow, and Shikhovo, to the west, Vlasov said.
Moscow Region Vice-Governor Alexei Panteleyev was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying a third case had been found on a private farm near Podolsk, south of Moscow, where 44 birds had died. He said the owner had bought the birds at the same market, which has been closed since Saturday morning.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 167 people worldwide since 2003, mostly in Asia. Many of the victims had been in direct contact with infected birds.
Health experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from human to human, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. Five people have died from eight cases in neighbouring Azerbaijan.
Interfax news agency quoted Nikolai Savenko, the Moscow region’s minister of food and agriculture, as saying strict measures were in place at all major poultry plants in the area.
"We have tightened control on access to the main poultry plants. At every poultry plant, we will introduce daily monitoring of the condition of birds and the people working with them," the regional minister was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Russia recorded more than 90 bird flu cases in chickens and other birds last year, mostly in the North Caucasus region that borders Georgia and Azerbaijan, and also in Siberia’s Novosibirsk and Omsk regions.