By Aziz El-Kaissouni
CAIRO, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Two Egyptians have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, a day after an Egyptian woman died of the disease, Egypt’s health ministry said on Thursday.
"There are two cases today, one in Damietta and one in Menoufia... Today lab results confirmed that they are infected with bird flu," Amr Kandeel, head of communicable disease control at the health ministry, told Reuters.
The two new cases, both of whom are currently receiving treatment in hospital, bring the total number of human bird flu cases in Egypt to 41, Kandeel added.
State news agency MENA said the Menoufia case was 22-year-old Nora Aboul Abbas Mohamed, but gave no details for the second case.
On Wednesday, 25-year-old Ola Younis died of bird flu in Beni Suef province, south of Cairo, on the same day she was diagnosed as being infected with the highly pathogenic virus.
She was the 16th fatality from bird flu in Egypt.
The H5N1 virus which causes bird flu tends to lie dormant during the summer and Egyptian officials had hoped that after two years of outbreaks it would not re-occur this winter.
But John Jabbour, an official at the World Health Organisation, said the new cases were not surprising.
"The agent is there... Since July we’ve had no human cases and many things calmed down, so people returned to dealing with live birds as usual. Since the virus is there, we expect to have human cases. It’s not a surprise at all," Jabbour said.
MENA reported Thursday that veterinary authorities in Sharkia province had culled 12,000 chickens after tests found the flock had been infected with bird flu.
Most of those who have fallen ill in Egypt were reported to have had contact with sick or dead household birds, primarily in northern Egypt where the weather is cooler than in the south.
The government still finds it hard to enforce restrictions on the movement and sale of live poultry.
The death toll is the highest for any country outside Asia and could reflect the high population density in agricultural parts of Egypt.
Experts fear the bird flu virus might mutate or combine with the highly contagious seasonal influenza virus and spark a deadly pandemic which could circle the globe and kill millions.
Around five million households in Egypt depend on poultry as a main source of food and income and the government has said this makes it unlikely the disease can be eradicated. (Reporting by Aziz El-Kaissouni; Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)