Top vet in Ukraine sacked over bird flu

One of the Ukraine's top veterinarian officers has apparently been dismissed over the delayed reporting of an outbreak of bird flu.

President Viktor Yushchenko while touring one of several villages affected by the outbreak in the Crimea peninsula has ordered the imposition of emergency measures at the weekend following the discovery of a virus that killed more than 1,500 birds within hours.

During the visit the president discovered that villagers complaints that their birds had been dying since September have been ignored by local officials and no action was taken.

Yushchenko has said that the inability of local and central veterinary services to cope in the early stages of the outbreak have forced him to order the dismissal of the chief veterinarian, as there has clearly been a professional error on the part of the veterinary service and it must accept responsibility.

Yushchenko also said he has asked the local government in the Crimea peninsula, an autonomous region, to dismiss its top veterinary official.

Ukrainian troops are reportedly rounding up and destroying domestic fowl in five villages near Lake Sivash in Crimea, a major stopping point on migratory flight routes, after experts detected a bird flu strain identified so far as H5 in the dead birds.

According to chief veterinarian Petro Verbytsky, the strain was unlikely to harm humans, but samples have been sent to Britain for further tests.

The deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu has already been found in birds in neighboring Romania and Russia.

The H5N1 strain is endemic in poultry in parts of Asia where it has killed almost 70 people, and experts are concerned that the virus may mutate into a form which can be transmitted easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions of people could die.

Verbytsky had earlier in the month offered to resign following accusations of inaction over the handling of bird flu in the Ukraine.

On Monday Russia banned poultry imports from Ukraine, and the European Union's Executive Commission said the 25-nation trading bloc was likely to impose a temporary ban on feather imports, its only poultry-related import from the ex-Soviet state.

Yushchenko has ordered the imposition of a three-km (two mile) exclusion zone around the villages, which were patrolled by Interior Ministry troops, while the birds were destroyed with napalm and then buried in pits.

A further 10-km monitoring zone was also imposed around affected areas, while the sale of privately-raised poultry has been banned in Crimea, tough checks ordered to be carried out on farms and restrictions placed on the movement of livestock.

Apparently villagers have received cash compensation for handing over birds and doctors are vaccinating villagers against seasonal flu.

Yushchenko says the situation is now totally under control, with all the birds being destroyed and all residents of the villages will be vaccinated by next week.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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