Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian flu (HPAI) caused by the H5N1 virus have occurred in the massive trans-European-Asian country of Russia. The last outbreak occurred in Krasnodar with the very latest (December 2007) ‘next door’ in Rostov. Both areas are in southern Russia and within the Black Sea region of Europe where the United Nations (UN) fears H5N1 is already endemic in large populations of wild and domestic waterfowl. 

The latest outbreak of H5N1 in Rostov is on a chicken farm housing 500,000 birds earmarked for culling following death of 35,000 birds in the same flock from the disease. The infected zone covers the village of Gulyai Borisovka and six nearby villages. According to PressTV, Marina Abrasion, spokeswoman for the Emergencies Ministry in Rostov region, said deaths of birds were first reported in late November 2007. RIA Novosti confirmed that chickens had been dying since 29 November 2007, and that preliminary laboratory analysis showed H5N1 to be the cause.

Surprisingly, the decision to cull the remaining 465,000 birds was not made until 11 December 2007 during a meeting of the local health and epidemiological commission. Culling commenced on the following day. According to a report by RIA Novosti 224,000 chickens at the farm still remained to be culled on 17 December 2007, virtually three weeks after the outbreak started and an extraordinarily long and dangerous time to wait. Another case of avian flu has been registered in an area neighbouring the infected farm, an emergencies ministry spokesman told RIA Novosti.

The local health and epidemiological commission also decided to vaccinate all people and birds living in the village and six neighbouring settlements as well as 200 workers at the affected farm.  Quarantine restrictions have been introduced at the border with Krasnodar territory. 

This is the third major outbreak in Russia during 2007. Krasnodar is on the route taken by migrating birds in winter, and was hit by H5N1 in September 2007 when a total of 230,000 birds were culled at the Lebyazhye-Chepiginskoye poultry farm.  In February 2007, H5N1 there were outbreaks in eight districts of the Moscow region and in one district of the Kaluga region. All cases were traced to a single poultry market in south-west Moscow. 

A Russian trade embargo on Polish meat (including poultry), related to alleged problems with quality control, has been in operation for some time. This was recently cemented by an additional ban on Polish poultry following the outbreak of H5N1 in Poland on 1 December 2007, although ironically H5N1 was already killing poultry in Russia at that time.

Thenews.pl reported that Polish agriculture minister, Marek Sawicki, met his Russian opposite number, Alexei Gordeyev, in Moscow on 12 December to discuss the Russian embargo on Polish meat. The Polish minister was accompanied by experts from the Polish Veterinary Inspectorate to convince Russia about the adequacy of the food quality control systems in Poland. TVN television said Russia appeared ready to lift the ban on Polish meat and other foodstuffs and wants to restore trade relations with Poland. Russia’s Interfax News Agency subsequently confirmed that an agreement had been reached. 

Trade will officially resume after Poland and Russia sign a memorandum – scheduled for signing on 19 December – according to the latest report from Thenews.pl

Russia introduced the embargo in November 2005, after Poland refused to concede to establishing border points for meat export and controlling all meat coming from the European Union.  Developments suggest the common threat of H5N1 to Russia and Poland helped to bring the countries together to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

As a result of the latest Russian HPAI outbreak, Ukrainian authorities have temporarily suspended the import of Russia poultry. An Armenian customs official said that although Armenia does not import poultry from Russia, it would still be banned as a precautionary measure, claimed RIA Novosti.