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Bird flu epidemic strikes Russia

Around half a million birds in Russia's south are due to be culled following an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in the Rostov region. Health officials are carrying out a massive vaccination programme against the virus.

The outbreak started in late November, but by the time the deadly H5N1 strain was confirmed, thousands of chickens had already been infected.

A quarantine area has been set up and all vehicles entering it are being disinfected. The neighbouring regions are making checks on their own poultry.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu was first reported in Russia in 2005, on a farm in Siberia.

The strain was also confirmed in several Moscow districts in February, where it killed hundreds of domestic birds and forced the slaughter of thousands more.

In September this year, authorities reported an outbreak at a poultry farm in the southern Krasnodar region.

While there have been no known cases of the virus being passed on to humans in the country, there are fears the strain could mutate into a form more easily transmitted among people, sparking a flu pandemic.