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Human Bird Flu Cases & at 204 After Egypt Confirms 12 Infections

Since Jan. 2006, 60 bird flu cases and 37 fatalities have been reported worldwide, compared with 95 cases and 41 fatalities in all of 2005.

Bird flu cases worldwide topped 200 after a dozen people were confirmed to have been infected with the virus in Egypt, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, as reported on 

``Of the 12 cases in Egypt, four patients have died and one remains hospitalized in stable condition,'' the Geneva-based United Nations agency said in an April 21 statement on its Web site. ``Seven patients have fully recovered and been discharged from hospital.''

An 18-year-old girl from the north Egyptian governorate of Minufiyah is the country's latest confirmed fatality, the WHO said. She developed symptoms on April 5 and died nine days later. Egypt's Ministry of Health regards cases as confirmed when positive results are obtained in its national public health laboratory and the Cairo-based U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 3. Test results on Egypt's initial cases were validated by a WHO collaborating laboratory in the U.K.

Cases in Egypt of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza take to 204 the number of people infected with the lethal virus since late 2003, according to the WHO. Of those, 113 have been fatal. More people are becoming infected after at least 33 countries reported initial outbreaks in animals since February.

The spread of the virus in birds creates more opportunity for human infection and raises the risk that H5N1 will evolve into a pandemic form capable of killing millions of people.

In Egypt, H5N1 outbreaks in poultry have been reported in 20 of the country's 26 governorates, the government said in an April 20 statement on its Web site.

So far this year, 60 H5N1 cases and 37 fatalities have been reported worldwide, compared with 95 cases and 41 fatalities in the whole of 2005. Countries that have reported human cases are Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, China, Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Egypt.

In almost all human H5N1 cases, infection was caused by close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them, or adults butchering them or taking off the feathers, the WHO said last month.

The total number of H5N1 fatalities is a fraction of deaths caused each year by seasonal flu, which usually numbers between 250,000 and 500,000 worldwide, according to the agency. Most deaths from seasonal flu in developed countries occur in people over 65.

A pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and starts spreading as easily as seasonal flu, through coughing and sneezing, according to the WHO.

Humans have no natural immunity to the H5N1 virus, making it likely that people who contract any pandemic flu strain based on H5N1 will become more seriously ill than when infected by seasonal flu, the WHO said. A flu pandemic in 1918 killed about 50 million people worldwide.