In what appears to be the biggest outbreak yet in Europe of the deadly strain of bird flu, more than 2,000 domestic birds have died in a remote region of the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine.
Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko has declared a state of emergency in five villages after the agriculture ministry said it had identified the H5 subtype of bird flu virus.
Officials then enforced a quarantine and began culling any remaining birds.
The failure on the part of the government to acknowledge the outbreak earlier will heighten alarm across Europe as to the ability of the Ukraine to deal with the bird flu problem.
Most at risk are Ukrainian villagers who keep birds in their gardens as they regularly handle birds that may have come into contact with the migratory wild birds that spread the virus.
Although confirmation that the outbreak was indeed caused by the H5N1 strain that can kill humans is still pending tests in Britain and Italy, officials are fairly positive that they are dealing with the same deadly strain that has been seen in Romania and other parts of south-east Europe.
Agriculture minister Olexander Baranivsky, has said he was first alerted on Friday after the villages saw up to 20 per cent of their birds die overnight.
The agriculture ministry insists it is keeping careful guard against bird flu by regularly testing wild and domestic birds around the country and making sure the issue gets ample coverage in national and local media.
However according to local reports, villagers have said they were mystified by the disease that had been killing their birds for more than a month and they indicate that the disease had started spreading around the same time as the first known outbreak of bird flu in Europe, in Romania’s Danube delta region in October.
Apparently the villagers have continued to eat what appear to be the healthy birds but have disposed of the diseased ones by way of the local village dump.
The affected villages are near Lake Sivash, a vast, marshy lagoon next to the Azov Sea where migratory birds stop over each spring and autumn on their way between Russia and Africa or the Middle East.
Apparently Romania is also dealing with what appears to be a new H5N1 outbreak in the country’s south-east, its first outside the Danube delta.
Although the virus has killed 69 in Asia, to date no-one in Europe has contracted the H5N1 virus.
Health officials believe people are not in general at risk unless they handle birds, however experts are concerned that a mutation would enable the virus to spread from human to human and cause a worldwide epidemic.