IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Bird flu kills five young people in Azerbaijan

Bird flu has killed five young people in Azerbaijan, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, adding it was investigating whether some of the victims could have been infected collecting feathers from dead swans.
Tofiq Gasymov, the father of 16-year-old
Tofiq Gasymov displays a photograph of his 16-year-old daughter, Gunel Gasymova, who died of bird flu in a small village south of Baku, Azerbaijan.Rena Effendi / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Bird flu has killed five young people in Azerbaijan, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday, adding it was investigating whether some of the victims could have been infected collecting feathers from dead swans.

Confirmation of the five deaths takes the WHO toll from the virus to 103 since late 2003.

Egypt reported its fourth suspected human case over the past week. The Egyptian authorities have said that one of the patients died of bird flu last Friday, but that has not been confirmed by the WHO.

Pakistan on Tuesday became the latest country to confirm bird flu in poultry, saying the virus found in two poultry flocks late last month was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain.

Bird flu has spread with alarming speed in recent weeks as it marches deeper into Africa, Europe and Asia. The United States says it is likely to arrive on its shores before the end of the year.

Fears are growing the H5N1 flu virus will mutate and pass easily from one person to another but for the moment it remains hard for people to catch it from infected birds.

“We don’t see any human-to-human transmission (in Azerbaijan). The exact source of exposure to the deadly virus is under investigation, which is focusing on defeathering of birds,” WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said.

Four of those who died came from a settlement of around 800 homes in the Salyan region in the southeast of the country, while the fifth victim came from Tarter in the west. Azerbaijan lies at the crossroads between Europe and Asia.

The WHO said an investigation in Salyan had found some evidence that carcasses of swans, dead for some weeks, may have been collected by residents as a source of feathers.

Adolescent women and young girls usually pluck birds in the affected community, the WHO said.

Four of the victims in Azerbaijan were women aged between 17 and 21, while the other was the 16-year-old brother of one of the dead women.

Egypt reported a fourth suspected case of bird flu in humans on Tuesday, in a 17-year-old boy whose father had an outbreak of the disease on his chicken farm in the Nile Delta on Saturday and Sunday.

Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali, quoted by the state new agency MENA, said the boy was taken to hospital in the town of Tanta on Sunday and was being treated with Tamiflu, the drug used to fight bird flu in humans. His condition was “good and stable”, he added.

The boy was the fourth Egyptian suspected of contracting the disease from infected birds. Of the first three, one has died, one has recovered and the third is receiving treatment.

The Palestinian Authority declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in the hope of preventing the spread of H5N1 which struck Israel last week. Israel has poisoned hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens in a bid to curb its outbreak.

In Pakistan, Livestock Commissioner Muhammad Afzal said there had been no other cases of bird flu since the outbreak was first reported on Feb. 27 at farms in the North West Frontier Province.

Samples from two farms were sent to a laboratory in Britain, and the flocks -- totaling around 23,000 birds -- were culled.

“I can only confirm that the H5N1 type of virus was found in chickens from both the farms,” Agriculture Ministry official Mohammad Akhlaque told Reuters.

“We have conducted tests on the people who worked on both the farms and they are healthy. There is no sign of any bird flu in those people. We have already culled all chickens so there is not much more we can do,” he told Reuters.