Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Avian flu reportedly jumped from birds to humans in Egypt

Several cases of avian flu have spread from poultry to humans in the Nile Delta, the Egyptian health authorities said this week as they worked to wipe out the outbreak among chickens and ducks.

A 15-year-old girl died Monday, a day after the death of a woman in her 30s whose family members showed symptoms of infection.

Egypt has reported nine confirmed human deaths from H5N1 avian flu since it was first found in birds in February and in a person in March.

At that time, the health and veterinary authorities canceled duck-hunting season, banned imports of live birds and forbade city dwellers to raise birds at home.

Officials also began culling diseased flocks and vaccinating healthy ones. They ran into early problems like vaccine shortages and widespread disregard for the new regulations by poor rural people who could ill afford to lose birds raised for food and sale.An Egyptian newspaper, The Daily Star, reported that 30 million birds had been slaughtered since then, mostly from the poultry industry, which suffered major losses.

Reports of the disease tapered off over the summer, but reappeared in September in the delta, an important stopover for migrating birds, with many moving through in December. Even in warmer climates, the disease peaks in cooler months.

The Egyptian Health Ministry offered sketchy details on the deaths. It sometimes takes the World Health Organization several days to confirm cases.

Local news media reports suggest that there have been about 20 suspected human cases in the northern part of Egypt.

At least three were among 33 members of an extended family that lived in a compound in Hanut in Gharbiya Province. The woman who died last weekend, her brother and a niece were said to have fallen ill after slaughtering ducks for a cousin's wedding.

Local reports said the authorities had declared an emergency and were trying to kill all the birds for 400 meters, or about a quarter-mile, around the compound, but were frustrated by residents who had hidden birds under beds.

Slaughtered birds were buried at a cemetery, streets were cleaned, and all 33 family members were tested.

As of the latest WHO update on Nov. 29, avian flu had infected 258 people worldwide, killing 154 of them. Indonesia had the most deaths, followed by Vietnam and Thailand. But Indonesia, Egypt and possibly China appear to have the most active outbreaks at the moment.