Egyptian 10-year-old girl dies of bird flu virus

CAIRO (Reuters) — A 10-year-old Egyptian girl who contracted the H5N1 bird flu virus died on Saturday, bringing the number of fatalities from the disease in the most populous Arab country to 15, the health ministry said.The girl, identified as Mayyada Tuhami, is reported to have fallen ill on June 1 after coming into contact with infected household birds but did not enter hospital until roughly a week later, delaying potentially life-saving treatment.

Her case followed a nearly two-month warm weather lull in human bird flu cases in Egypt, where 35 people are known to have contracted the virus since it was first detected in Egyptian poultry in early 2006.

The Egyptian health ministry said in a statement that the girl, from the southern town of Qena, had been admitted to hospital on Thursday with a high fever and a pulmonary infection, and was put on an artificial respirator.

“She died at dawn on Saturday and is considered the 15th death from bird flu in Egypt,” the statement said.

Bird flu did extensive damage to the country’s poultry industry and the economy as a whole after its arrival in Egypt, which has more confirmed human bird flu cases than any other country outside of Asia.

Most of those who have fallen ill in Egypt were reported to have had contact with sick or dead household birds, primarily in northern Egypt where the weather is typically cooler than in the south.

But in a sign of a change in how the disease may be occurring in Egypt, all but two of the past 11 human cases have occurred in central or southern parts of the country.

Bird flu experts in Egypt have said they would typically expect fewer human cases of the disease during Egypt’s sweltering summer months, and in 2006 there was a summertime lull in human cases between May and October.

Experts fear that the bird flu virus might mutate or combine with the highly contagious seasonal influenza virus and spark a deadly pandemic which could circle the globe and kill millions.

Around five million households in Egypt depend on poultry as a main source of food and income and the government has said this makes it unlikely the disease can be eradicated. The government still finds it hard to enforce restrictions on the movement and sale of live poultry.

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