December 7, 2007 / 11:39 AM / 13 years ago

Benin finds two bird flu outbreaks, suspects H5N1

COTONOU (Reuters) - Benin has discovered two outbreaks of bird flu among poultry which it believes to be the deadly H5N1 strain, the first such cases in the West African country, a senior health official said on Friday.

Chickens are seen at a hennery on the outskirts of Suining, southwest China's Sichuan province October 6, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer CHINA OUT

The cases were discovered late on Thursday in Adjarra, some 9 miles north of the capital Porto Novo, and on a farm in the commercial capital Cotonou.

“We found several dead birds. We went ahead with tests which turned out to be positive,” Julien Toessi, a senior public health official, told Reuters in an interview.

“We have taken samples which we have already sent to Italy to be confirmed but we are convinced that these (bird) deaths are due to the H5N1 strain of bird flu,” he said.

Health Ministry officials said several hundred birds had been slaughtered as a precautionary measure in a 3 mile radius around the two separate locations. All farms within a nine mile radius were being disinfected.

The import of poultry had been banned and restrictions on the movement of birds between farms imposed.

Benin’s eastern neighbor Nigeria has been one of the countries worst affected by bird flu in the region, reporting sub-Saharan Africa’s first confirmed human death from the disease early this year.

Its western neighbor, Togo, declared its first outbreak of the most deadly strain of avian influenza in June and has since found new cases.

H5N1 bird flu has killed more than 200 people around the world, mainly in Asia, since the disease re-emerged in Hong Kong in 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

Outbreaks in Africa have raised alarm bells because epidemiologists fear the continent’s widespread poverty, lack of proper veterinary and medical facilities and huge informal farming sector could allow outbreaks to go unnoticed for longer, increasing the risk of the virus mutating.

Writing by Nick Tattersall, editing by Mary Gabriel

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