Egyptian authorities have reported four human cases and one death from bird flu, though the WHO has not confirmed the cases.
On Tuesday, Pakistan became the latest country to confirm the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of bird flu in poultry.
In Azerbaijan, the WHO and the Azeri Ministry of health is conducting house-to-house surveillance for cases of flu-like illness in the regions reporting human cases. The U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 3 is providing on-site diagnostics.
Six of the patients lived in the same small settlement of around 800 homes in Saylan Rayon in south eastern Azerbaijan. A field investigation conducted by the WHO and the Azeri Ministry of Health discovered unburied swan carcasses and suspect that the victims became infected while collecting swan feathers, a common practice in the community.
Four of the human cases were women between the ages of 17 and 21 and the fifth a brother of one of the women. Another case occurred in a 21 year old living in western region of Tartar.
“We don’t see any human-to-human transmission (in Azerbaijan). The exact source of exposure to the deadly virus is under investigation, which is focusing on defeathering of bird,” said WHO spokesman Dick Thomspon.
The deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu remains difficult for humans to catch and most infections occur as a result of direct contact with sick birds, though health authorities fear that the virus could mutate and pass easily from person to person sparking a global pandemic.
Egyptian authorities say that one patient with the bird flu has died, one recovered and two are receiving treatment. The most recent occurred in a 17-year-old boy whose father had an outbreak on his chicken farm on the Nile Delta. Hatem el-Gabali, the Egyptian health minister said he is being treated with Tamiflu and his condition is “good and stable.”
The H5N1 strain was first discovered in Hong Kong in 1996 and re-emerged in South Korean in late 2003. It has spread at an alarming rate in recent weeks with new countries in Asia, Europe and Africa reporting new outbreaks. Animal experts suspect that migrating birds and trading live birds helped carry the disease to new countries.
On Monday, U.S. officials said that the bird flu is likely to arrive in the United States before the end of the year and will test 75,000 to 100,000 wild birds concentrating on spots along the Pacific flyway.
Since early 2003, the virus has killed or forced authorities to cull tens of millions of chickens and ducks in an attempt to prevent the disease’s spread.