February 25, 2008 / 8:27 AM / 12 years ago

Bird flu hits another Bangladesh district

DHAKA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Bangladesh, struggling to combat avian influenza, confirmed on Monday the H5N1 virus had spread to another district, taking the number of affected districts to 45 out of 64.

The new outbreak was found in Chandpur, 170 km (105 miles) southeast of the capital, but livestock officials said the spread of bird flu had slowed across the country in recent weeks.

"At the advent of spring we are getting few reports about poultry dying," said Ibrahim (one name), project director of the government’s livestock department. "The situation is now mostly under control."

Nearly 970,000 birds have been culled since the virus was first detected in March 2007, threatening the impoverished country’s growing poultry industry.

At least 5 million of the country’s more than 140 million people are directly or indirectly involved in poultry farming, of whom officials estimate around 1.5 million have now become jobless.

Officials say the disease has badly hit the country’s annual $1.8 billion poultry industry. Bird flu has caused losses of about 45 billion taka ($650 million) to the poultry sector.

No human bird flu cases have been reported in Bangladesh, a densely populated nation with millions of fowl kept in backyards.

Experts fear the H5N1 strain could mutate or combine with the highly contagious seasonal influenza virus and spark a pandemic, especially in countries such as Bangladesh where people live in close proximity to backyard poultry.

Humans usually contract the virus only after close contact with infected birds. The virus has killed more than 230 people worldwide since 2003. (Reporting by Ruma Paul; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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