updated 2/17/2007 3:53:04 PM ET 2007-02-17T20:53:04

Tests have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 bird flu strain in poultry found dead in two suburban Moscow districts, an agriculture official said Saturday, in the first such outbreak to be recorded so close to the Russian capital.

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Alexei Alexeyenko, a spokesman for the federal agricultural oversight agency, told The Associated Press that laboratory results showed the strain of the virus in the Odintsovo and Domodedovo districts, west and south of Moscow respectively, where two dozen birds died this week.

He said officials were still awaiting results on tests taken in a third suburban district, Podolsk, where 44 birds were reported to have died on Saturday.

Russia had its first reported cases of the H5N1 strain in Siberia in 2005, and outbreaks have since occurred farther west, but mostly in southern areas distant from the capital.

No human cases of bird flu have been reported in Russia.

Since it began ravaging Asian poultry farms in late 2003, the H5N1 strain has killed at least 167 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Though it remains difficult for humans to catch, health authorities across the globe are monitoring the H5N1 strain out of concern it could mutate into a form that easily spreads from person to person and spark a pandemic.

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