CAIRO: A 37-year-old Egyptian woman who tested positive for the bird flu virus has died in a Cairo hospital, bringing the number of deaths from the disease in Egypt to13, a government health official said on Friday.
A World Health Organization expert said a delay in reporting symptoms was largely behind the most recent deaths in Egypt. A mutated strain that killed three people in December is not suspected to have recurred, officials say.
The woman who died, Nadia Abdel Hafez, had been reported in stable and improving condition after being transferred to hospital in Cairo, but her condition later deteriorated.
She died yesterday evening, said Amr Qandil, director of communicable diseases at the Egyptian Health Ministry.
Egypt has the highest known cluster of human bird flu cases outside Asia, with 21 known human cases since the virus first surfaced in Egyptian poultry a year ago. Thirteen have died.
Abdel Hafez, who kept birds in her home, was admitted to hospital on Feb. 12 after coming into contact with infected poultry. She was from Fayoum, the same province where a 17-year-old girl died of bird flu earlier this month.
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, although the sector has largely recovered.
On Friday, a five-year-old Egyptian boy has tested positive for the deadly bird flu virus, bringing the number of cases in Egypt to 22, the health ministry said in a statement. John Jabbour, a WHO official in Cairo, said delays in reporting symptoms were making bird flu more deadly in Egypt, where many people keep birds at home but are often reluctant to disclose that to health officials for fear of sanctions.
The fatality rate from bird flu this winter is significantly higher than it was between March and May 2006, before the country witnessed a 5-month warm-weather lull in human cases and when fear in Egypt over bird flu was rampant.
Before the May-October lull, the bird flu fatality rate in Egypt had been under 50 percent. Just six died of 14 people who contracted bird flu in Egypt between March 2006 – when the virus first surfaced in humans in the country – and May when human cases briefly disappeared.
Seven Egyptians have contracted bird flu since the disease reappeared in humans in Egypt in October following the lull. All have died, including three with a mutation that made the disease moderately resistant to Tamiflu.
Jabbour said Abdel Hafez, the most recent to die, had noticed symptoms on Feb. 7 but did not enter hospital until five days later. She was given Tamiflu immediately, but died anyway.
They are not reporting very quickly. They are denying exposure, Jabbour told Reuters, saying that was leading the start of treatment to be dangerously delayed.
This is what is creating this problem here, the fatal condition of the influenza virus in Egypt.
Officials have said the 17-year-old infected earlier this month also died largely because she did not get treatment early enough. She was initially treated for seasonal flu after her family denied she had come into contact with sick birds.
Neither of the most recent cases were suspected to have been infected with a mutated strain of the H5N1 virus that killed three Egyptian members of one family in December. That mutation has not resurfaced.
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 167 people worldwide since 2003, mainly in Asia.
Thus far, WHO said the mutations were not drastic enough to spark a pandemic, but more mutations could prompt scientists to rethink current treatment strategies. -Additional reporting by AP.