CAIRO: Judging from the gender ratio of infections in Egypt, women are most at risk of avian influenza contagion than men, said Hamdi Abdel Wahed, media official at the health ministry. All of the eight deaths that have occurred in Egypt as a result of avian flu have been among women.
The reason for this is that women in the countryside are traditionally in charge of looking after domestically kept birds, which are the most likely to be infected with bird flu, Abdel Wahed said.
The latest victim died on Dec. 24 in Gharbiyya province, 90 km north of Cairo, bringing the number of bird flu deaths in the country among humans to eight. She was admitted to hospital on Dec. 17, and although she initially denied having had contact with birds, tests confirmed she was infected with the potentially lethal virus, Abdel Wahed said.
But the illness was already at an advanced stage by the time she was taken to hospital. She had high fever, shortness of breath, and eventually died of a heart attack despite having been administered with the appropriate treatment, he added.
The latest victim became the eighth female fatality. To start with she was frightened of admitting that she had been rearing ducks at home, said Abdel Wahed. This indicates she knew of the risk, but did not appreciate the extent of the danger.
The authorities have carried out extensive awareness campaigns ever since bird flu was first detected in Egypt in February, 2006. Asked whether any campaigns targeting women specifically were in the offing, however, Abdel Wahed said, There ought to be, but I am not aware of any such campaign per se.
The victim s male nephew, who was diagnosed on the same day as having been infected with the virus, is in a stable condition, Abdel Wahed said. All other members of the family were tested and were found clear.
Virus H5N1 was first detected among humans in Egypt in March 2006, and a month earlier among birds. The majority of infections and all of the deaths have been among people who reared birds domestically as opposed to on farms.
In response to the risk of infection by rearing birds at home, the government banned domestic poultry rearing in urban centers. However, the country s health authorities did not impose similar restrictions in rural areas where domestic breeding is more widespread and economically vital.
A ban would lead many to conceal their birds, heightening the danger rather than quelling it, Abdel Rahman Shahine, a health ministry official, said.
Egypt s densely inhabited Nile Valley saw the worst concentration of bird flu infection this year outside Asia. The area has a large rural population that has traditionally reared poultry for food and income, and lies on major routes for migratory birds.