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Bird flu kills 12-year-old boy, infects baby

The death of a boy of 12 in Cambodia and the case of a sick baby girl in Egypt underlined on Wednesday the threat posed to children by the bird flu virus.
/ Source: Reuters

The death of a boy of 12 in Cambodia and the case of a sick baby girl in Egypt underlined on Wednesday the threat posed to children by the bird flu virus.

In Europe, experts called for new precautions because cats, and possibly other mammals, can be infected and could spread the virus. Dr. Albert Osterhaus, of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, warned that cats may help the virus to adapt into a more highly infectious strain in humans which could spark a pandemic.

H5N1 bird flu has spread rapidly across Europe and the Middle East in recent weeks, and has flared anew in Asia.

Germany said on Wednesday that tests had shown a form of H5N1 had spread to domestic fowl on a large farm in the eastern state of Saxony.

Several European Union countries, including Germany, have reported cases of avian flu in wild birds, but most have managed to keep it out of domestic flocks. France, in February, was the first EU nation to report an outbreak on a poultry farm.

Britain found H5 bird flu in a dead swan in Scotland and tests are under way to see if it is the deadly H5N1 strain, the government said on Wednesday. Results are due on Thursday.

Officials have set up a 1.8 mile protection zone in Fife, eastern Scotland, where the bird was found. A further 10km surveillance zone is in force.

“Measures to restrict the movement of poultry, eggs and poultry products from these zones will be brought into effect immediately,” a government statement said.

Bird flu remains essentially an animal disease, but can infect people who come into direct contact with infected birds. It has killed 108 people since late 2003, according to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization.

Experts fear it will mutate into a form that passes easily from person to person, sparking a pandemic in which millions could die and crippling the global economy.

Children who play outdoors in areas shared with backyard poultry are one of the groups most at risk.

In the latest case in Cambodia, a boy from the southeastern province of Prey Veng, abutting Vietnam, died on Tuesday night, said Michael O’Leary, the WHO representative in Phnom Penh.

He said a laboratory in the capital confirmed the boy was infected with the H5N1 avian flu virus.

Two Egyptian women have died of bird flu in recent weeks.

Egypt said its latest human case was a baby girl from the south of the country whose father raised birds in his home.

“This case was discovered on Tuesday and tests carried out ... showed that the case was positive,” Health and Population Minister Hatem el-Gabali said, adding that she was in a stable condition after receiving treatment.

Cat caution
Fears over the virus have grown in pet-loving Europe after reports that cats had in Germany had become infected.

Animals such as dogs, foxes, ferrets and seals may also be vulnerable to infection, researchers said in a commentary in the journal Nature.

They recommended that in areas where avian flu is endemic, cats should not be in contact with birds or their droppings. Cats may need to be kept indoors and if animals or other carnivores show signs of illness they should be tested for H5N1.

“Perhaps there is a case for developing a vaccine for cats as well,” Osterhaus told Reuters.

There is no evidence that people can contract bird flu through eating properly cooked meat, but the spread of the virus has depressed poultry sales in many markets.

Germany said it would start culling to prevent the spread of bird flu after finding it on a farm which houses more than 16,000 turkey, geese and chickens. A state official confirmed it was the highly pathogenic form of the virus.

“This is the first case of H5N1 in domestic fowl (in Germany) and this makes it somewhat explosive,” Saxony’s Minister of Social Affairs, Helma Orosz, told a news conference. “Tonight we will start to kill all the birds.”