Bird Flu Alarm

2006-03-21-5 deaths in Azerbaijan push global bird flu toll to 103

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-03-21-5 deaths in Azerbaijan push global bird flu toll to 103

A British lab has determined that H5N1 strain of bird flu killed five people in Azerbaijan within the past month, pushing the worldwide human toll from the virus to more than 100.

Two other Azerbaijanis became ill from exposure to the virus but recovered, according to tests done at the World Health Organization collaborating lab. The results were released Tuesday.

Those who died were all teenagers or young adults, and a WHO news release said four of them were linked:

The four lived near each other in the settlement of Daikyand, in the southeastern part of the former Soviet republic.

A 17-year-old girl who died on Feb. 23.
Her female cousin, 20, who died on March 3.
The 16-year-old brother of the cousin, who died on March 10.
A close family friend, a 17-year-old girl, who died on March 8.

The fifth victim was a 21-year-old woman who died on March 9 in the western administrative district of Tarter, according to the WHO release.

REALITY CHECK: After the deaths, the other costs of avian flu

The source of their infection is still under investigation, but the World Health Organization noted that young girls and women in the affected communities are responsible for removing feathers from fowl.

"Over the weekend, a field investigation in Salyan [region], jointly conducted by WHO and the Azeri Ministry of Health, found some evidence that carcasses of numerous swans, dead for some weeks but not buried, may have been collected by residents as a source of feathers," the news release said.

Previously, 98 people in seven countries were confirmed to have died after contracting the H5N1 virus, mostly from infected domestic poultry. The new toll is 103.

Scientists fear the virus will mutate into a form that is more easily passed from person to person, perhaps as a result of combining with a human influenza virus.

If that happens, they warn that millions could die around the world.

Understanding Avian Influenza