Bird Flu Reaches India; Deaths Top 90 Worldwide

A Bulgarian villager takes precautions by moving domestic geese indoors.
A Bulgarian villager takes precautions by moving domestic geese indoors. (By Andrei Rusev -- Associated Press)
Associated Press
Sunday, February 19, 2006

BOMBAY, Feb. 18 -- India reported its first case of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu Saturday after chickens were found to have died from the virus. A man in Indonesia also died from the disease, that country's 19th death, officials said.

Indian officials will immediately begin slaughtering hundreds of thousands of birds in a 1.5-mile radius around the poultry farms in the western town of Navapur, where the confirmed cases were detected, said Anees Ahmed, the Maharashtra state minister for animal husbandry.

"Around 500,000 birds will be killed," he said. "It is confirmed the deaths were caused by the H5N1 strain."

At least 30,000 chickens have died in Navapur, a major poultry-farming region of Maharashtra state, over the past two weeks, Ahmed said.

Officials initially believed the birds had died of Newcastle Disease, another deadly bird illness, but further tests revealed that bird flu was responsible.

Bird flu has killed at least 91 people -- mostly in Asia -- since 2003, according to World Health Organization figures updated through Monday.

Most victims have been directly infected by sick birds, but scientists fear the H5N1 virus could mutate to a form easily passed between humans and spark a pandemic.

The Indonesian man died on Feb. 10 at a hospital in Jakarta. He had been in frequent contact with poultry, said Hariadi Wibisono, an Indonesian Health Ministry official.

The death brings Indonesia's official toll from the virus to 19. The only country with more human deaths is Vietnam, with 42.

Egypt's agriculture minister said Saturday that the number of cases of bird flu in the country was not high enough to warrant large-scale culling of poultry yet, but that authorities would act accordingly if the disease spreads.

The Egyptian government on Friday announced the country's first cases of H5N1 -- seven cases in three provinces.

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