Iraq confirms human bird flu case, suspects more

Jan 30, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Updated information on a teen-aged girl's death means that Iraq has joined the unenviable fraternity of nations hit by human cases of H5N1 influenza.

The girl's name was Shengeen Abdul Qadr, according to a New York Times story today. Her age has been variously reported as 14 or 15; she lived in the village of Raniya in northern Iraq, about 60 miles from Turkey, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Initial tests led authorities to deny she had avian flu.

The story of her illness suggested a strong link, however. The girl touched a dead bird infected with the H5N1 virus on Jan 14, according to a statement by the Iraq health minister reported in the Times, and died three days later.

The girl's preliminary diagnosis of H5N1 was made over the weekend, following testing at a US military laboratory in Cairo, Egypt, the Times reported. Avian flu is also suspected in the case of the girl's uncle, who lived in the same house and died Jan 27 after suffering symptoms like hers, according to the AP.

Samples from the girl and her uncle will be tested in Britain, Reuters reported.

A Reuters report from Geneva today said Iraq is investigating a possible third human case of H5N1 infection. That case involves a 54-year-old woman who was hospitalized on Jan 18 with respiratory symptoms and is still being treated, World Health Organization (WHO) officials told Reuters. She is from the same area in northern Iraq, near the city of Sulaimaniya, as the girl and her uncle.

In addition, the Times quoted health minister Dr. Abdul Mutaleb Mohamed Ali as saying that two other people in other parts of Iraq had been tested for H5N1 infection, but the story gave no results or details in those suspected cases.

Confirmation of the teen-aged girl's infection prior to discovery of poultry outbreaks in Iraq suggests that H5N1 may be spreading stealthily, under the radar of existing surveillance systems, the newspaper noted.

"We shouldn't be seeing human cases first, and this points to serious gaps in surveillance," WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said in that story. "But given the situation in Turkey, I don't think we'd be surprised to see isolated human cases in surrounding areas."

Kurdish officials in northern Iraq today quarantined four villages over concerns that birds and people in the area may be infected, the Times reported. Some 150 teams of people were canvassing the area to cull birds.

Other avian flu news came from two previously unaffected places—Cyprus and Saudi Arabia—and from Hong Kong, where the H5N1 virus first made news in 1997.

A bird in northern Cyprus has been confirmed to have H5N1 infection, Reuters reported Jan 29. Cyprus is an island about 75 miles south of Turkey.

Ill birds were found near Famagusta on the east coast of Cyprus on Jan 23, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Jan 29. About 1,500 poultry have been culled in the village since then, and stringent border checks are taking place between the Turkish north of Cyprus and its Greek southern region.

In Saudi Arabia, 37 falcons were culled after five of the valuable sporting birds tested positive for H5 antibodies, according to an AFP story on Jan 28. Tests to determine the neuraminidase (N) type were under way, the story said.

The falcons were boarded at a veterinary center in Riyadh. After the testing was done in the course of a ministry team inspection, the 37 falcons were killed and burned, AFP reported.

Last November, neighboring Kuwait announced the finding of a flamingo infected with H5N1 and an imported falcon with H5N2.

In Hong Kong, authorities have confirmed that an oriental magpie robin found dead in a privately owned hut in the Sha Tau Kok area near the Chinese border had H5N1, Reuters reported yesterday. The species is common in Hong Kong and often kept as a pet. A wild magpie robin in Hong Kong tested positive for H5N1 earlier this month.

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