CAIRO: Health Minister Hatem El Gabaly announced Sunday at a Shoura Council health committee meeting that H7, a new strain of the bird flu virus, was recently detected in Egypt for the first time.
Abdel Rahman Shahin, health ministry spokesman, told Daily News Egypt they found the virus in one of the migrating birds. He explained, however, that this is not a new virus in Egypt but that they had rediscovered it this month.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Influenza A viruses have 16 H subtypes and 9 N subtypes. Only viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes are known to cause the highly pathogenic form of the disease. However, not all viruses of the H5 and H7 subtypes are highly pathogenic and not all will cause severe disease in poultry.
On present understanding, H5 and H7 viruses are introduced to poultry flocks in their low pathogenic form. When allowed to circulate in poultry populations, the viruses can mutate, usually within a few months, into the highly pathogenic form. This is why the presence of the H5 or H7 virus in poultry is always cause for concern, even when the initial signs of infection are mild.
But Shahin confirmed that H7 is not as dangerous as the H5N1 strain which is the known type of bird flu.
He said that H7 symptoms are not as severe as those of H5N1 and that until now no human has been infected with it in Egypt. He added that the drugs and vaccines used to combat the H5N1 strain will be used for the H7 virus until new drugs are formulated.
According to the Flu Information Centre (FIC), “before 2003 only occasional case reports of human H7 influenza virus infections occurred as a result of direct animal-to-human transmission or laboratory accidents; most of these infections resulted in conjunctivitis.
The Egyptian press reported that Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Maged George said that the ministry tested 6,432 samples of migrating birds and confirmed that all of them were free of the H5 virus which causes the disease. The tests were conducted at Namru (Naval Medical Research Unit) laboratory.
George added that while testing samples of migrating birds they detected nine cases infected with the H7 virus which, agreeing with Shahin, he believes is not critical and does not infect humans.