Monday, January 30, 2006

Flu And War

Iraqi Teenager's Death of Bird Flu Suggests Rapid Spread

Published: January 30, 2006
A 15-year-old girl has died of the bird flu in Iraq, health officials there and abroad said today, a finding that indicates that the virus has arrived in yet another country — one whose ability to control contagion is likely to be hampered by war.

The confirmation of the cause of the girl's death also suggests, officials said, that the disease may be spreading widely — and undetected — among birds in the countries of central Asia, which are poorly equipped to identify and report infections. Avian flu has never been reported in birds in Iraq.

As happened in Turkey earlier this month, the spread of the H5N1 strain of bird flu to a new part of the world became evident only through a human death. That is notable, and alarming to health officials, because bird flu rarely infects humans, and usually does so late in the course of an animal outbreak, after close contact with sick birds.

"We shouldn't be seeing human cases first, and this points to serious gaps in surveillance," a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, Maria Cheng, said in Geneva. "But given the situation in Turkey, I don't think we'd be surprised to see isolated humans cases in surrounding areas."

The girl, Shengeen Abdul Qadr, died this month in Sulaimaniyah, in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq, three days after touching a dead bird infected with the virus, the Iraqi health minister said today. The girl's uncle, who died last week, is also presumed to have succumbed to the disease, although test results are pending.
It might be the height of irony that the war that Bush wages for no good reason may come back to hit home hard in the form of a virulent strain of flu that might kill thousands, more effectively than any Al Qaeda strike could, as scientists and health monitors have to duck bullets.

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