Bird Flu Alarm

2006-02-01-New bird flu scare in north Iraq

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-02-01-New bird flu scare in north Iraq

Twelve people suspected of having the H5N1 strain of bird flu are being treated in Kurdistan in northern Iraq, officials say.

Iraqi authorities have begun culling poultry in the region and the World Health Organisation (WHO) will send a team of experts there on Wednesday.

A 54-year-old woman from the town of Raniya is thought to be the most serious of the suspected cases.

Iraqi officials say a teenage girl died of the strain two weeks ago.

Shanjin Abdel Qader died in a hospital in the nearby city of Sulaimaniya on 17 January, after an illness lasting 15 days.

Initial test results from a WHO laboratory were negative, but after Iraqi tests showed indications of H5N1 the organisation agreed to a further examination in a UK laboratory.

Raniya is close to the border with Turkey, where four people have died of the virus.

Cull

"We have 12 patients in Sulaimaniya that have lung infections that we suspect may be the bird flu virus," Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Imad Ahmed told Reuters news agency.

The head of the committee set up to fight the spread of the virus said they had begun culling birds in the regions north of Sulaimaniya near Lake Dukan, in Raniya, and north of Arbil.

"So far we have killed 500,000 birds. In some of these areas we have killed 50% of all birds and in others only 30%," Tahsin Namiq said.

There have been no confirmed cases of bird flu among poultry in Iraq, but all human deaths so far are believed to have been caused by contact with infected birds.

A spokesman for the WHO said its team of four experts in epidemiology and infection control would reach the region by the end of the week.

"The purpose of the mission is to assess the situation on the ground. Experts from the [UN] Food and Agriculture Organisation may also be joining the team," Dick Thompson said.

Understanding Avian Influenza