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Two suspected bird flu deaths reported in Nigeria, first in sub-Saharan Africa – UN

Two suspected bird flu deaths reported in Nigeria, first in sub-Saharan Africa – UN

The United Nations health agency is helping the government of Nigeria monitor the situation following two suspected fatal bird flu cases in Africa’s most populous country, only the second possible incidence of the H5N1 virus in humans in the sub-Saharan region.

The Government reported the death of a 22-year-old female and her mother in Lagos, the country’s largest city, earlier this month. Preliminary tests on samples from the younger woman were positive for the virus and have now been sent to a UN World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza for confirmation. Results are expected shortly. No samples were taken from the mother.

Contacts have been followed up and have shown no symptoms at twice the incubation period for avian influenza infection. Samples have been tested from these contacts as well as from three other suspected cases, one of them fatal, and have all been negative in preliminary tests. These samples have also been sent to a WHO Collaborating Centre.

“It is important to reiterate that properly cooked poultry meat is safe to consume when cooked at temperatures at or above 70 degrees centigrade in all parts, until none of the meat is red,” WHO said in a statement.

“There is no epidemiological evidence to indicate that people have been infected with H5N1 virus following consumption of properly cooked poultry or eggs. The greatest risk of exposure to the virus is through the slaughter and handling of live or already dead infected poultry.”

The only other sub-Saharan African country to report human bird flu is Djibouti with one non-fatal case. North of the Sahara only Egypt has had human cases – 19 with 11 of them fatal.

There have so far been 270 cases worldwide, 164 of them fatal, the vast majority in South-East Asia. Ever since the first human case of H5N1, linked to widespread poultry outbreaks in Viet Nam and Thailand, was reported in January 2004, UN health officials have warned that the virus could evolve into a human pandemic if it mutates into a form which could transmit easily between people.

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. More than 200 million birds have died worldwide from either the virus or preventive culling.