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China, Indonesia Report New Bird Flu Deaths

Indonesia announced two more human bird flu cases, both fatal, while China reported its 12th human case. The WHO has confirmed 169 human cases in seven countries, 91 of which have resulted in death. In Europe, the Greek Health Ministry also announced it was testing a man who developed flu-like symptoms for possible bird flu.

The disease is still an animal virus but experts fear that it could mutate into a form that is easily transmittable from human to human and spark a global pandemic that could kill millions. Most reported human cases occurred in people living in close contact with infected birds.

On Saturday, dead birds in Greece and Italy tested positive for H5N1, marking the first time the virus appeared in the European Union. Authorities detected the virus in swans in the northern part of Greece and in three provinces in southern Italy. Swans in Bulgaria near the Danube Delta also tested positive for the virus.

In response to the outbreaks, Italian government officials prohibited all movement of live animals in the three regions. The swift response is being hailed as a model of early detection.

“We should not be unduly surprised or alarmed if such cases are found in the European Union,” said the EU’s Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou. “What is important is that we have the framework in place to take the appropriate measures as soon as possible to contain it and prevent its spread to poultry, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Despite the Italian example, health officials fear that poorer countries lack the resources for adequate surveillance and detection, which could allow the virus to spread easily to commercial flocks and possibly to humans. Last week, authorities discovered the virus for the first time on the continent of Africa in a large poultry farm in northern Nigeria. In the cases of Nigeria and Turkey, outbreaks were discovered months after they began and in Iraq, a human case was discovered before an avian outbreak.

A team of U.N. experts completed an inspection of the area in northern Iraq that reported the human case and urged Iraqi authorities to continue strict agricultural controls. Nine other people have been hospitalized in Iraq with bird flu-like symptoms, but tests have not yet confirmed the cases.

Another U.N. team of experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization and the WHO arrived in Nigeria on Monday to help local authorities contain the virus in Africa’s most populous country.

Nigeria has reported outbreaks on four farms and several other states have reported suspected outbreaks, raising fears that the disease is spreading. Many people in impoverished rural areas are unaware of the bird flu and have been using their bare hands while handling sick birds. No human cases have been confirmed in Nigeria.