Avian influenza arrives in Middle East

By KATE WALKER, UPI Correspondent   |   Jan. 30, 2006 at 1:13 PM
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OXFORD, England, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Iraq announced Monday its first known fatality from avian influenza.

A 15-year-old girl from Raniya, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, died earlier this month, having suffered flu-like symptoms.

Following her death on Jan. 17, samples were sent to a U.S. Navy Medical Research Unit Laboratory in Egypt. The laboratory confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza this weekend.

"We regretfully announce that the first case of bird flu has appeared in Iraq," said Iraqi Health Minister Abdel Mutalib Mohammed. "The results show the inflection with the deadly H5N1. We appeal to the World Health Organization to help us."

Samples from the girl's uncle are also being tested for H5N1. He lived in the same house as the girl and died 10 days later, having exhibited similar symptoms.

Meanwhile:

-- Elsewhere in the Middle East, Saudi Arabian authorities have tested a number of falcons and found evidence of infection of an H5 strain of avian influenza.

The official Saudi Press Agency reported over the weekend that five falcons have been tested for avian flu and that 37 falcons, including the five tested, have been culled as a preventive measure.

Although the presence of an H5 strain of the virus has been detected, authorities are still awaiting confirmation of the "N" subtype. This is the first time an H5 strain of bird flu has been detected in Saudi Arabia.

-- European Union authorities Sunday confirmed the presence of H5N1 in samples taken from poultry stocks in Cyprus.

The European Commission has sent a team of veterinary experts to Cyprus and has offered the assistance of the EU in surveillance, should it be needed.

Cypriot authorities have issued instructions that all poultry be kept indoors, and stringent checks are taking place at crossings between the Greek and Turkish sides of the island.

"The European Union is the best prepared area in the world to confront a deadly virus pandemic, and this also covers Greece and Cyprus," EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told Greek news agencies last week.

-- Following the emergence of avian influenza on its doorstep, EU regulators are considering allowing member states to make their own decisions -- pending application and justification -- considering the precautionary vaccination of poultry flocks.

"With H5N1 on Europe's borders for several months now, there is an ongoing risk. It's a new situation, and in a new situation, new approaches may have to be considered," a European Commission official said.

"Until now, it (vaccination) has been allowed for emergency vaccination but not preventive. Now, preventive vaccination could be allowed based on the risk and an analysis of the risk. It's an option that could be considered."

EU officials have shied away from preventative vaccinations in the past as regulations concerning the separation and identification of vaccinated and non-vaccinated birds make the area a bureaucratic minefield.

-- Romanian health officials have announced that a woman originally admitted to hospital with suspected avian-influenza infection is clear of the virus.

Although results from the blood tests have yet to be confirmed, initial signs indicate that the woman, who was hospitalized last week, is most likely ill with bronchitis.

-- Officials in northeastern Bulgaria discovered more than 100 dead birds near the Durankulak and Shabla lakes Saturday. The dead birds were found frozen.

Samples taken from the birds are currently being tested for signs of H5N1 as a precautionary measure, although it is likely that the birds died as a result of the extreme low temperatures in eastern and central Europe last week.

Until the test results are returned, the area around the lakes has been cordoned off, and movements have been restricted.

-- An Oriental Magpie Robin, a popular breed of household pet, was confirmed by Hong Kong authorities Sunday to have died of avian influenza.

The bird, which was found dead in a private hut near the Chinese border, is the second Oriental Magpie Robin to have died of avian influenza in Hong Kong this month.

-- Algerian Health Ministry officials announced Monday that a poultry breeder who died under suspicious circumstances earlier this month was not infected with avian influenza.

"There is no sign of bird flu. The tests were negative," a Health Ministry official told reporters.

No cases of avian influenza in humans or birds have been confirmed in Algeria.

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