- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

China reports new human victim

KANO, Nigeria — The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has spread to poultry in northern Nigeria, the first time it has been detected in Africa, while China said yesterday that it was treating another human victim of the disease.

The outbreak in Nigeria opens a new front in the battle against the virus, which has killed at least 88 persons in seven countries since it re-emerged in late 2003.

War-ravaged Iraq is also struggling to contain the disease. Police cars and ambulances drove through the streets of the southern city of Amara yesterday, urging residents to kill their birds to prevent the spread of the disease.

So far, victims have contracted the disease through close contact with infected birds. Experts stress that cases of human infection are relatively few, compared with the millions of birds that have contracted the disease.

However, scientists fear that H5N1 could mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a human influenza pandemic.

“The outbreak in Kaduna state in northern Nigeria proves that no country is risk-free and that we are facing a serious international crisis,” said Samuel Jutzi, a director of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.

“If the situation in Nigeria gets out of control, it will have a devastating impact on the poultry population in the region. It will seriously damage the livelihoods of millions of people, and it will increase the exposure of humans to the virus,” he said.

Nigerian Agriculture Minister Mallam Adamu Bello said no poultry workers have been infected thus far. However, it would be difficult for authorities to know for sure, because mortality rates in impoverished Nigeria are among the highest in the world and people are often buried without being checked by a doctor.

Migratory birds have been blamed for the spread of the virus, but it is not clear how the virus reached Nigeria, with an estimated poultry population of 140 million.

World Health Organization (WHO) regional adviser Adamou Yada noted there has not been any known cases among humans in Africa.

“In Africa, we have so many diseases, so many priorities, if it spreads in Africa, it will be a nightmare,” he said from the the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bird flu is spreading west from Asia, where it is endemic in poultry across parts of the continent.

China has more poultry than anywhere else in the world and remains a key battleground in fighting the disease.

The latest bird flu patient brought the number of the country’s confirmed cases in humans to 11, the Xinhua news agency said. Seven persons have died from the virus in China.

The patient, a 26-year-old female farmer from eastern China’s Fujian province, was in a stable condition, Xinhua said.

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