October 11th, 2006 10:53 EST
Bird Flu First Egyptian case confirmed since May
Washington – Egyptian health authorities have spotted the first case of bird flu in a human since May, a report that also was confirmed by the World Health Organization October 11.
Fourteen cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza strain H5N1 appeared in Egypt from March to May, making it the nation outside Asia suffering the highest prevalence of the disease. (See related article.)
The current case involves a 39-year-old female patient who developed symptoms at the end of September and remains hospitalized in stable condition, according to a WHO situation report.
The report also confirms that the woman had a flock of ducks around her home, and recent experience slaughtering and defeathering them after illness appeared in her birds.
Around the world, 253 people have been infected by the H5N1 strain and 148 have died. The vast majority of exposures have arisen in circumstances similar to those described in the latest report --- exposure through proximity to ailing birds.
Health experts worry most about cases in which they cannot find an animal source of exposure. If disease investigators cannot trace an individual’s infection with H5N1 to ailing birds, it could mean the virus is being transmitted another way and that conditions favorable for development of a pandemic could be mounting.
Historically, influenza pandemics have developed when an avian form of influenza mutates to become transmissible among humans.
That is what experts warn could happen with the H5N1 virus, which has spread so widely and caused such serious disease in birds, with hundreds of millions destroyed or dead from disease in the three years since the strain’s emergence.
INFECTION IN PIGS, CATS IN INDONESIA
Indonesian agricultural officials confirm that H5N1 has been detected in pigs and cats, according to news reports. This is a worrisome development because it is well established that pigs could become living test tubes for the emergence of a new viral form easily transmitted among humans.
Pigs are susceptible to both avian flu strains and to human strains. If one animal were to become infected with H5N1 and a human strain, that pig could act as the Petri dish in which a viral strain is born that could set off a human pandemic.
The report of H5N1-infected pigs follows an earlier report in which the virus was detected in another region of Indonesia. Similar reports emerged from China in 2001 and 2003.
Stray cats reportedly were infected with H5N1 after being exposed to birds at live markets, according to the Indonesian Environment Information Center as reported by the Jakarta Post.
Other instances of infection among cats -- wild and domestic -- have been reported in Europe and Asia, but the role of the feline family in further transmitting the disease is not known.
Indonesia has experienced the worst national total of human infection with avian influenza, reporting 52 deaths. (See related article.)
VIRUS SURVEILLANCE IN UNITED STATES
Early in 2006, when the virus was ripping its way across Europe and the Middle East, U.S. observers predicted the inevitable arrival of H5N1 in the Western Hemisphere.
So far, that has not happened, though wildlife testing has discovered the appearance of other, low-pathogenic flu strains in the United States that are common and not considered a major health threat.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife authorities across the country are engaged in a widespread monitoring and surveillance campaign of wild birds.
Fifteen thousand birds have been tested over the last few months. It is anticipated that 50,000 to 70,000 fowl will be sampled for signs of a highly pathogenic avian flu strain over the next few months. (See related article.)
The United States also is supporting disease surveillance and detection activities in other nations considered highly vulnerable to human outbreaks because of traditional livestock-keeping methods.
The United States has invested almost $400 million in the international effort to control and contain avian influenza to help stave off a human pandemic. (See fact sheet.)