WHO dismisses virus mutation concerns
Reuters CAIRO: A 37-year-old woman has tested positive for the deadly bird flu virus, bringing the number of confirmed cases in Egypt to 21, a World Health Organization official said on Wednesday.
There is a case, 37-years old, from Fayoum. She has been transferred to Abbasiya (hospital) in good condition, said Hassan El-Bushra, regional adviser for communicable diseases surveillance for the World Health Organization. A Health Ministry statement identified the woman as Nadia Abdel-Hafez from Fayoum province southwest of Cairo, the same area where a 17-year-old girl died of bird flu this month. Egypt has the highest known cluster of human cases outside Asia, with 12 deaths out of the 21 infected cases since the virus first surfaced in Egyptian poultry a year ago.
The woman, who kept birds in her home, was admitted to hospital on Feb. 12 after coming into contact with infected poultry, officials said.
Most people infected in Egypt had been in contact with poultry kept at home. Bird flu initially caused panic across the country and did extensive damage to the poultry industry.
The Egyptian government said last month poultry production had recovered to 1.8 million birds a day, just short of the 2 million produced before the outbreak.
Officials said the woman was responding well to treatment, and there was no indication she was infected with a mutated strain of the H5N1 virus that had shown moderate resistance to the frontline anti-viral drug Tamiflu.
We are not suspecting mutation anymore, said Cairo-based WHO official John Jabbour. This case is stable. It is responding to treatment.
The mutated strain of the virus killed three Egyptians in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya in December, according to the Egyptian health ministry. The mutation has not resurfaced.
Officials have said the 17-year-old infected earlier this month in Fayoum died because she did not get treatment early enough, not because of the mutation. She was initially treated for seasonal flu after her family denied she had come in contact with infected birds.
The WHO reaffirmed last May that patients should get Tamiflu as a frontline treatment for bird flu, but said in certain cases doctors may consider using it along with amantadine, an older class of effective flu drugs.
Health experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that passes easily from human to human, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. The virus has killed 166 people worldwide since 2003, mostly in Asia.
On Tuesday, Egypt s Health Minister, Hatem El-Gabaly, warned that health officials here must be particularly alert to the seriousness of the crisis.
Speaking to an international conference on bird flu in Cairo, El-Gabaly also blamed the international community for not providing enough aid to African nations as they struggle to deal with the spread of the deadly virus.
The three-day conference, hosted by the WHO, brought together officials from governments and international organizations to discuss coordinating efforts to combat bird flu, including how to inform people about the disease in case of a possible pandemic. Additional reporting by Reuters’ Alaa Shahine and AP