More deaths from bird flu in Egypt

A spokesperson for Egypt's health ministry has confirmed that a 10 year-old girl has become the youngest victim in Egypt of bird flu since the first human case was recorded in the country in March 2006 and is the country's 15th fatality from the deadly virus.

Of the 35 human cases reported to date in Egypt 15 have died.

Although the youngster first became ill on 1 June, she was not admitted to hospital until 6 June because of poor diagnoses; she had apparently been taken to four different private physicians before she was finally diagnosed.

Dr. John Jabbour, International Health Regulations Officer and medical officer for Emergency Diseases, World Health Organization (WHO) in Cairo says the case illustrates bird flu needs more awareness and attention from doctors in the private sector.

Dr. Jabbour says it is crucial that people know the symptoms of bird flu and for doctors to recognise and treat those symptoms as early as possible to avoid any fatality.

Currently incidences of avian flu in humans are treated in Egypt with the antiviral drug Tamiflu and health officials do stress that the treatment's success is dependent on the patient being treated as soon as symptoms emerge.

Experts say bird culling campaigns and fines for having so-called 'backyard birds' have deterred many people from reporting the potentially deadly illness.

Dr. Jabbour says fear of Egyptian authorities is the main problem in Egypt and people deny being exposed to H5N1 and backyard birds, which then delays the treatment and causes deaths.

Also it is traditional for village people to give each other gifts in the form of poultry which then become part of the domestic household.

Another person from the same village as the 10 year old in Upper Egypt's Qena province, is also suspected of having contracted the H5N1 strain of avian flu.

The 25 year old has reportedly been taken to Hemayat Hospital in Qena.

Earlier this year, Egypt authorities launched a major campaign to vaccinate backyard birds, which are the most common route of transmission of avian flu from animals to humans.

The government also has boosted its efforts to make the public aware of the risks of keeping poultry in the home and although cases continue to be reported, the campaign does appears to be limiting fatalities.

Although the H5N1 virus remains mainly a virus of birds, experts fear the virus could mutate into a strain easily transmitted between humans, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

To date almost all cases have been the result of direct or indirect contact with infected birds.

The WHO has also confirmed the death of a Indonesian girl from bird flu, taking the death toll from the virus in that country to 79.

The 16-year-old was hospitalised on May 25th and died on May 29th.

According to the WHO, worldwide the virus has killed 189 people out of 310 known cases since it re-emerged in Hong Kong in 2003 and millions of birds have either died or been culled as a result of the virus.

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