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Bird flu human death toll reaches 105

Bird flu has killed a young girl in Cambodia, the first human victim of the virus in the poor southeast Asian nation in almost a year, while Jordan became the latest Middle East country hit by an outbreak.
/ Source: Reuters

Bird flu has killed a young girl in Cambodia, the first human victim of the virus in the poor southeast Asian nation in almost a year, while Jordan on Friday became the latest Middle East country hit by an outbreak.

Mon Puthy, aged 3, who lived in a village in Kampong Speu province about 40 miles (60 km) west of Phnom Penh, had been in contact with sick and dying chickens, officials said. She died on Tuesday.

“She has been confirmed positive with H5N1,” local World Health Organization spokeswoman Megge Miller said.

Her death took Cambodia’s human death toll from bird flu to five since the virus first landed in the region in late 2003. The country’s last victim was a 20-year-old woman who died in a Vietnamese hospital in April 2005.

First death in Shanghai
On Friday, China’s Health Ministry confirmed that a 29-year-old woman in Shanghai had died of the virus, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The woman, surnamed Li, was a migrant worker who was initially said to have died of “pneumonia of unknown cause.” The city government said it suspected bird flu on Thursday.

The latest death is the first known case in Shanghai and brings to 16 the number of human bird flu cases and to 11 the number of deaths confirmed in China. China reported its first death from the virus in November of last year.

The latest reports bring the cumulative number of confirmed human deaths from H5N1 to 105, according to World Health Organization officials.

Bird flu remains essentially an animal disease but can infect people who come into contact with sick poultry.

Health experts fear the virus will mutate enough to pass easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die.

The WHO’s Miller said seven other people in the village who had either been in contact with the girl or sick poultry were showing some signs of fever, although there was no cause for panic.

“They have a fever but no cough,” Miller said. “We are keeping an eye on them. None requires hospitalization at the moment.

“It looks like another one of those isolated incidents. There aren’t any alarm bells at the moment,” she said.

Mon Puthy’s 23-year-old mother, Choeun Sok Ny, said she still had no idea what had killed her daughter, an indication that bird flu public education campaigns in one of Asia’s poorest nations still have a long way to go.

“Other children in the village played with the dead chickens more than my loved one,” she told Reuters by telephone. “Why they are not sick, and why did my daughter die?”

Middle East hit
Jordan became the latest country in the Middle East to confirm cases of the H5N1 but said no humans had been infected and the outbreak was under control.

Jordanian Health Minister Said Darwazeh said at least three dead turkeys at a domestic farm in Ajloun had tested positive for the disease.

Twenty people were given the Tamiflu antiviral drug and the area has been cordoned off to prevent the disease from spreading further, he told a news conference in Amman.

“The disease in its current form is more of an economic disease that affects poultry. It has had a very limited effect on human health,” he said.

The virus had been detected in some of Jordan’s neighbors and other countries in the region. Iraq, Turkey and Egypt have reported human cases and infected poultry was found in southern Israel and spread to the densely populated Gaza Strip this week.

Poultry sales have continued a patchy recovery across Europe as a dwindling number of new bird flu cases have shifted the media spotlight away from the virus, calming consumer fears.

Sales are still weak in some regions and experts warn that the spring migration of wildfowl from Africa could soon bring fresh cases of deadly H5N1 bird flu to Europe.

In France, which has a $7.18 billion poultry industry, the largest in the European Union, sales are now around 7-10 percent down on the same period last year.