WHO calls for vigilance amid spread of avian flu in birds
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(AFP) - The World Health Organisation has said that countries must maintain close monitoring as avian flu spread in birds through Asia and westwards across Russia.
"As we understand it right now, this is largely limited to smaller farms and rural areas," Dick Thompson, a spokesman for WHO, said.
"But as we've seen elsewhere, this is a virus that can jump to humans in this kind of a situation, so there needs to be continued and close monitoring," he told AFP.
Russian authorities said Monday that bird flu had spread west to the Ural mountains region of Chelyabinsk, the sixth region in Russia to be affected by the disease.
It was not known if the latest outbreak in chickens near the village of Oktyabrskoye was of the H5N1 strain, which is potentially deadly to humans.
In three other areas further east in Siberia -- Altai, Novosibirsk and Omsk -- which were affected earlier, authorities have confirmed the presence of the more virulent strain.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia, the majority in Vietnam, since 2003.
"What we're concerned about is that the virus is in proximity to humans and what we've seen is that occasionally and even rarely, when humans have come in contact with this virus, they've become infected," Thompson said.
Health experts have said the spread of bird flu to Russia was predictable following outbreaks in neighbouring areas of western China. It is thought to have been carried by migrating birds.