Mar 5, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A 42-year-old woman from Laos' Vientiane province who died yesterday probably had H5N1 avian influenza, according to World Health Organization (WHO) officials. Confirmation of the case would mark the country's first human death from the disease.
The woman was hospitalized 5 days ago with severe pneumonia, and tests showed that she had an H5 flu virus, but authorities are awaiting results that would clarify if it was the H5N1 strain, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. A Bloomberg News story reported essentially the same information from WHO and Laotian officials.
"It is very likely it is H5N1," WHO spokeswoman Dida Connor told AFP. If the woman's case is confirmed by the WHO, she will be listed as Laos's second avian flu case-patient in less than a week and the country's first person to die of the disease.
On Feb 27 Laos announced its first human H5N1 patient, a 15-year-old girl from suburban Vientiane who is undergoing treatment in a Thai hospital, according to media reports. Connor told AFP there is no direct link between the woman and the girl; Bloomberg said the two cases occurred about 31 miles apart.
Officials are investigating how the woman caught the disease and are monitoring her family members and hospital staff, AFP reported.
Outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry returned to Laos, striking birds near Vientiane, the capital, in mid-February after 6 months without major outbreaks. The Associated Press today reported a new poultry outbreak in southern Laos, but few details were available.
Meanwhile, physicians in China are hoping to boost the immunity of the country's latest H5N1 patient, a 44-year-old farmer from Fujian province, by transfusing her with serum from another Chinese patient who recently recovered from an H5N1 infection, Xinhua reported today. The donor is a 37-year-old man from Anhui province who was confirmed on Jan 10 by the WHO as China's 22nd H5N1 case-patient.
The woman, who fell ill Feb 18 and possibly had contact with sick birds at her home, is in critical but stable condition, Xinhua reported. Her diagnosis was confirmed on Mar 1 by the WHO, and she is the country's 23rd case-patient.
The treatment appears to be the first use of serotherapy to treat a human H5N1 infection. Researchers from the US Navy, writing in the October 2006 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, reported that the practice may have reduced mortality when it was used to treat patients during the "Spanish flu" pandemic of 1918. Though avian flu experts acknowledge that serotherapy may be beneficial in a flu pandemic, some say supply and logistical problems would hamper its use.
In other avian flu news, a handful of countries have recently reported further bird or poultry outbreaks:
- Myanmar reported three more outbreaks in chickens and ducks near Rangoon, as well as positive H5N1 findings in crows, AFP reported yesterday.
- Kuwait reported that new cases were detected in Al-Sulaibiya and Wafrah, increasing the total number of infected birds to 50, most of which were backyard poultry, according to a report from Kuwait News Agency today.
- Pakistan confirmed H5N1 in birds, including crows and chickens, in Peshawar, Naushera, and Charsadda districts, The International News, a Pakistani Web site, reported today.
Mar 1 WHO statement
Jan 10 WHO statement
Luke TC, Kilbane EM, Jackson JL, et al. Meta-analysis: convalescent blood products for Spanish influenza: a future H5N1 treatment? Ann Intern Med 2006 Oct 17;145(8):599-609 [Abstract]
Sept 8, 2006, CIDRAP News article "Could blood from H5N1 flu survivors help others?"