World News

WHO team arrives to probe Pakistan bird flu cases

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A World Health Organization team headed for Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province on Monday to investigate how eight people were infected with bird flu, after the country reported its first human death from the virus.

Health officials confirmed at the weekend that eight people had tested positive for H5N1 in the province since late October, of which one person, who worked in a poultry farm, died.

A brother of the dead person, who had not been tested, also died. It was not yet clear if he was a victim of bird flu.

“The team will investigate whom the affected people were in contact with, whether they visited poultry farms or affected persons,” Health Secretary Khushnood Akhtar Lashari told Reuters.

“The other people tested positive were not from the poultry farm. Five of them have recovered while two were still being treated.”

No more new cases have been reported in the last two weeks.

Humans rarely contract H5N1, which is mainly an animal disease. But experts fear the strain could spark a global pandemic and kill millions of it mutates to a form that spreads more easily.

The three-member WHO team, joined by officials from the Pakistan National Institute of Health, will visit Peshawar, where patients were treated, and Abbottabad, where authorities reported the last H5N1 virus case in wild birds on November 30.

Bird flu first appeared in Pakistan in early 2006, and several outbreaks of H5N1 were reported this year.

The Pakistani cases bring to nearly 350 the number of people worldwide who are known to have contracted the H5N1 virus, which has killed more than 200 people since 2003.

Reporting by Augustine Anthony; editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex Richardson