Bird flu: Russia opens hunting season early

MOSCOW — Some Russian regions have opened the hunting season early in an attempt to stop the spread of a deadly outbreak of bird flu, media reported recently.

In the regions of Irkutsk, in eastern Siberia, and Penza, in European Russia, local officials decided to open the hunting season for birds early, even though there have been no cases of bird flu in those regions, Itar-Tass news agency reported.

Russia is trying to contain an outbreak of bird flu, which has spread across Siberia to the Ural mountains, the geographic divide between Asia and Europe.

Veterinary officials fear migrating birds could spread the virus to the agricultural regions of southern Russia as the birds fly to winter in Western Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The outbreak was discovered in mid-July in Novosibirsk and has spread through Tyumen, Omsk, Kurgan, Altai and Chelyabinsk, while birds deaths have been reported in Kalmykia, a region in southern Russia.

But those deaths were not due to bird flu, according to preliminary tests, Interfax news agency reported, citing local officials from the state's consumer rights watchdog.

The H5N1 subtype of bird flu has killed more than 50 people in Asia since 2003. No cases among humans have been confirmed in Russia.