Nigeria confirms its first human case of avian flu

Jan 31, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Nigerian officials confirmed today that a 22-year-old woman died of H5N1 avian influenza, making Nigeria the third African country to have a human case, after Egypt and Djibouti.

The woman was from Lagos, the nation's largest city, a government minister told news services.

"Last night our team of 13 scientists were able to conclusively identify the case of avian influenza," Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke said at a press conference today, according to a BBC News report. He said samples from the woman would be sent to other laboratories, including the World Health Organization (WHO), for further review.

The woman fell ill after de-feathering and disemboweling an infected chicken, Reuters reported. She died Jan 17, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Nigeria announced 2 days ago it was conducting H5N1 tests on samples from 14 patients, including 3 who died of suspected avian flu and 11 who were exposed to them. The 22-year-old and her mother were two of the victims, according to Reuters. Other news services have said a woman from Taraba state was the third. A WHO official had said preliminary tests were negative and samples were sent to a lab in Britain for further testing.

Earlier reports said the mother and daughter from Lagos had died within 2 weeks after eating chicken bought from a live-bird market during the holidays. An AllAfrica News report had said the family slaughtered the chickens after one died mysteriously.

Africa's first experience with H5N1 avian flu came in 2006 with poultry outbreaks in several countries, plus 18 human cases in Egypt and 1 in Djibouti. Egypt has had 19 cases with 11 deaths, including one fatal case so far this year.

Nigeria has been hit hard by bird outbreaks, with 17 of 36 states affected so far, according to Reuters. A July 2006 report in Nature said the H5N1 virus had entered Nigeria three different times, possibly carried by migratory birds. But the report also said international poultry trade could have been a factor.

WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said a human case of avian flu in Nigeria is no surprise, because many poultry flocks live close to humans, much as in Indonesia, which has been hit hard by poultry outbreaks and human cases, Reuters reported.

"It does not change anything from a public health point of view. It had to happen sooner or later," Hartl told Reuters.

At a donors' conference in Bamako, Mali, in December, World Bank officials urged donors to focus their funding on African countries because they are economically weaker and less able to respond to avian flu threats.

In other avian flu news, Japan confirmed today that its third poultry outbreak this winter was caused by H5N1, according to Canadian Press. The outbreak at a chicken farm in Okayama prefecture, about 340 miles west of Tokyo, is Japan's second confirmed outbreak in a week.

The country's first two recent outbreaks occurred in Miyazaki prefecture in southwestern Japan, the country's main poultry-producing area. The fresh round of outbreaks is Japan's first in 3 years.

In Hungary, where an outbreak in some geese was the first European appearance of H5N1 this winter, the outbreak strain is 99.4% similar to the strain found in some European countries in 2006, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) reported yesterday in a news release. The finding came from the OIE reference lab in Weybridge, England.

"This information tells us that the genetic characterization of the virus isolated in Hungary has still not mutated significantly," said OIE Director Bernard Vallat.

Meanwhile, government officials in Indonesia said they may declare avian flu a national disaster, AFP reported today. Indonesia has had six avian flu deaths this season, which has prompted a ban on backyard poultry in Jakarta, effective tomorrow.

Declaring avian flu a national disaster would pave the way for centralized measures and greater funding, Planning Minister Paskah Suzetta told the state news agency, Antara, today. He added that the recent avian flu outbreak meets national disaster criteria because it has caused many casualties and its spread could not be contained.

See also:

Jan 30 OIE press release

Jul 6, 2006, CIDRAP News article "Report says avian flu entered Nigeria 3 times"

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