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AFGHANISTAN: New bird flu cases confirmed (in birds)

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  • AFGHANISTAN: New bird flu cases confirmed (in birds)

    AFGHANISTAN: New bird flu cases confirmed

    KABUL, 12 March 2007 (IRIN) - Thirteen new cases of bird flu have been detected in Afghanistan over the past week, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the country to 17 for this year, health officials said.

    ?Nine dead birds were diagnosed with the virulent H5N1 strain [of avian influenza] in five districts of [eastern] Nangarhar and Kunar provinces,? said Assadullah Azhari, a spokesman for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Kabul.

    According to FAO ? which has set up a bird flu diagnostic laboratory in Kabul ? four other cases were identified in backyard poultry in the capital.

    Prior to this, four cases of the H5N1 strain of the virus were reported on 24 February in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, which border Pakistan.

    Afghanistan?s first bird flu case was reported in March 2006.

    The Afghan government has banned the importation of poultry products from neighbouring Pakistan and other countries where avian influenza has been confirmed.

    In an effort to reduce the risks of the virus, authorities have launched a massive poultry vaccination campaign in the capital and the two provinces where the infectious disease has been confirmed.

    ?We have completed vaccination and culling in many poultry farms and have now started a similar process in households [backyard poultry],? Dr Azizullah Usmani, director of Afghanistan?s Department of Animal Health and Production, told IRIN on Sunday.

    However, the Afghan government has run out of funds to curb the spread of the deadly virus that has killed 168 people globally.

    ?We had US $64,000 in the government?s avian influenza account, almost all of which has already been spent,? said Usmani, adding that the government had applied to the World Bank for US $1 million assistance.

    The World Bank and the Avian & Human Influenza Trust Fund (the World Bank's facility to curb the spread of bird flu) have jointly pledged US $13 million to assist Afghanistan in its fight against avian influenza over the coming three years.

    No human case

    In Kabul, children were seen playing near the infected poultry. Although the youths appear healthy and do not show symptoms of the disease, samples of their blood have been sent for medical tests.

    On 28 February, two patients were given avian influenza treatment in the Kunar provincial hospital. However, their blood tests proved negative for it.

    Afghanistan?s Ministry of Public Health says there has not been a human case of avian influenza in the country to date.

    More than half of Afghanistan's estimated 25 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, which means less than US $2 a day. Specialists say they are more vulnerable to a possible outbreak of the avian influenza because chickens and eggs play a crucial economic role among poor rural families who keep scores of backyard flocks unregistered.

    According to the World Health Organization, the H5N1 virus poses two main risks for human health. First, the risk of direct infection when the virus passes from poultry to human, resulting in severe disease and possibly death. Second, the risk of human to human infection should the virus mutate.

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