U.S. expert says one wild bird does not make a pandemic, while Egypt finds bird flu case # 12

Egyptian health officials have reported another case of human bird flu in the country bringing the total there to date to 12.

According to Health and Population Minister Hatem el-Gabali the latest case is an 18-year-old woman from a province north of Cairo who caught the virus after handling infected birds.

The ministry says she has been given Tamiflu and is in a stable condition. Members of her family are being tested for the infection.

According to the government the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus has so far killed 3 people in Egypt, but another 5 have made full recoveries while four remain in hospital.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which routinely carries out additional tests after initial testing, has confirmed four of Egypt's total number of cases including two of the deaths.

Since 2003 the disease has claimed at least 109 people worldwide, and has spread rapidly from Asia to Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

While the disease remains one found predominantly in birds, there has always been the fear it could mutate into a form that can pass between humans, triggering a worldwide pandemic.

It is still difficult to contract and all human infections to date have stemmed from people handling infected birds or poultry.

Bird flu was first detected in birds in Egypt in February and the first human infection was reported in mid-March.

The WHO has expressed concern about the disease's human toll in a relatively short period of time.

All three of Egypt's fatalities, were female, who are often the ones responsible for slaughtering and cooking domestic poultry.

The government has called for more awareness about bird flu among women to protect themselves and their families.

Meanwhile in the United States a top avian influenza expert has concurred with British experts in saying that even if bird flu does arrive on U.S. shores on the wings of a migratory bird, the virus is unlikely to cause the devastation to poultry or people that it has in less developed countries.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's infectious disease chief, has said the intense level of surveillance applied would make it very unlikely that the situation presently seen in Nigeria and Indonesia might happen in the U.S.

The WHO estimates that bird flu has killed 109 people in nine countries, mostly in Asia, since 2003. It has also been responsible for the deaths and slaughter of more than 200 million chickens, ducks, turkeys and other domestic fowl in Asia, Europe and Africa.

Many experts believe migrating birds could be spreading the virus but Fauci has expressed his doubts and says, as does his British counterpart, that one migratory bird does not constitute a pandemic.

U.S. poultry farmers, like farmers in Europe, keep their birds isolated from contact with wild birds, and most people in the U.S. have limited contact with poultry or their droppings that contain high levels of the virus in infected poultry.

He also says the bird flu virus is unlikely to change overnight so that it spreads from person to person, it must first undergo a series of genetic changes and that in itself could render the virus less virulent.

Fauci says hopefully the epidemic in birds will eventually burn itself out, which epidemics often do, before the virus evolves the capacity to efficiently transfer between humans.

Nevertheless Fauci says the government must still be prepared for the worst and it would be 'unconscionable' not to do so.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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