Bird Flu Leaves Three People Dead in Egypt

CAIRO, Egypt, January 3, 2007 (ENS) - Three members of an extended family have died after being infected with H5N1 avian influenza, bringing the human toll in that nation to 18 cases and 10 deaths since February, when the disease was first reported in Egypt. The worldwide total since the latest outbreak began in December 2003 now stands at 261 human cases and 157 deaths.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population has informed the World Health Organization, WHO, that while being transferred to and cared for at the country's designated avian influenza hospital, a 30 year old woman, a 15 year old girl and a 26 year old man died.

The most recent death occurred on 27 December.


A farmer's flock of ducks on Egypt's River Nile. (Photo courtesy Galenfry Singer)
All three victims belong to a family in Gharbiyah province, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the capital city, Cairo. The man and woman were siblings and the girl was their niece.

The deceased reportedly had contact with sick ducks, according to the World Health Organization.

Clinical specimens from the three cases tested positive for the H5N1 virus by Egyptian Central Public Health Laboratory. The virus also was detected in specimens from two of the three patients by U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No.3 in Cairo.

The samples will be sent to a WHO Collaborating Centre for further testing including virus characterization.

The Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population is conducting further investigations and has initiated public health measures. The other family members remain healthy and have been placed under close observation.

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a contagious disease of animals caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and, less commonly, pigs. Bird flu viruses are highly species-specific, but have, on rare occasions, crossed the species barrier to infect humans.

While these three deaths are believed to have followed exposure to sick poultry, experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that is easily passed from person to person, initiating a pandemic. Public health scientists estimate such a pandemic could kill millions of people, many in the developing world, and have dire effects on social and economic systems.

WHO explains that a pandemic can start when three conditions have been met - a new influenza virus subtype emerges; it infects humans, causing serious illness; and it spreads easily and sustainably among humans.


Inspector in an African market checks ducks for signs of avian influenza. (Photo courtesy FAO)
The H5N1 virus meets the first two conditions, WHO says. It is a new virus for humans - H5N1 viruses have never circulated widely among people - and it has infected more than 100 humans, killing over half of them. No one will have immunity should an H5N1-like pandemic virus emerge.

Avian influenza has reached more than 50 countries, and hundreds of millions of chickens have died or been culled to prevent the spread of the virus. Estimated related financial losses are in the tens of billions of dollars.

The World Bank's Avian and Human Influenza Facility, AHI, said Thursday that six grants with a total value of $28 million have been approved to help 13 countries fight the threat posed by avian and human influenza.

The facility, a grant-making mechanism supported by the European Commission and seven other donors, helps countries implement action plans to reduce the social and economic impact of avian influenza and minimize the possible outbreak of a human flu pandemic.

"The bank is pleased that these grants are designed to foster intra-regional cooperation, given the emerging threats of trans-boundary animal health issues," said AHI Facility Administrator David Potten said.

Vietnam will receive $10 million to provide for early detection and response to human cases and to prepare for medical consequences of a possible human pandemic.


Animal health technicians disinfect a farm in Tien Giang province, near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where carcasses of ducks that died of or were culled because of avian flu have been burned and buried. (Photo courtesy FAO)
In Vietnam, thousands of ducks and chickens were killed and a few areas were disinfected after the first outbreak of bird flu last year was suspected on December 11, 2006 in Ca Mau, Bac Lieu and Hau Giang, the three provinces of the Mekong delta.

Vietnam is known for its extensive usage of poultry vaccination and careful surveillance since 42 human deaths out of 91 cases were reported between late 2003 and the end of 2005.

Indonesia will receive $10 million to reduce the amount of virus circulating in the environment and its possible mutation to a form easily transmissible among people.

Of the 74 human cases confirmed to date in Indonesia, 56 have been fatal. The latest fatality occurred in a 30 month old boy from Karawang in West Java Province who died on November 13, 2006. Chicken deaths were reported near his home in the days before he developed symptoms.

Afghanistan will receive $5 million to control infections among birds and domestic poultry and to prepare responses to possible human infection and related emergencies. No human cases of bird flu have been reported in Afghanistan.

Tajikistan will receive $1.5 million to minimize the threat to humans by highly pathogenic avian influenza infection and other animal diseases. No human cases have been reported in Tajikistan.

The Middle East Consortium on Infectious Disease Surveillance will receive $1 million to help facilitate information exchanges among Jordan, Israel and West Bank and Gaza.

And $500,000 will help strengthen the Southern Agricultural Council for Avian Flu Preparedness in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.