Egypt university dorm quarantined over H1N1 cases

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has detected the H1N1 flu virus in two foreign students at the American University in Cairo and has put 140 more under quarantine in their Nile island dormitory, health and university officials said on Monday.

Police wearing face masks stood guard at barriers outside the multi-storey dormitory in the upmarket island neighborhood of Zamalek that houses mainly foreign students from Western and other Arab countries, and no one was allowed in or out.

“There are two students who have confirmed positive H1N1 test results,” university spokeswoman Rehab Saad El-Domiati said, adding that both infected students were American. “As a result, the dormitory has been quarantined for 24 hours.”

She said a third student had been hospitalized as a precaution with a fever. All the students living in the dormitory were being tested for the virus.

Egypt, already hard hit by the much more deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, had detected its first H1N1 case last week in a 12-year-old American girl who arrived for a holidays in the most populous Arab country. The case was the first in Africa.

The airborne H1N1 virus has now been diagnosed in more than 21,000 people worldwide, and has killed at least 125, mostly in Mexico, according to the World Health Organization.

Egypt, whose poultry industry was decimated by the arrival of bird flu in early 2006, fears another flu virus could spread quickly in a country where most of the roughly 76 million people live in the densely packed Nile Valley, many in crowded slums.

Egypt had stepped up surveillance measures at the airport to try to prevent the arrival of the disease, including by installing thermal monitors that helped detect and swiftly isolate the country’s first H1N1 case.

But the American University students who tested positive for the virus were believed to have arrived in late May on two separate flights from the United States, casting doubt on whether Egypt’s airport measures could detect all cases.

“I am not really sure whether there are other cases we have missed or not because these cases were detected... a couple days after they entered the country,” said Hassan al-Bushra, regional adviser for communicable disease surveillance at WHO.

Egypt has reported 29 human cases of bird flu this year including a boy who tested positive on Sunday -- nearly four times the number reported in 2008.

Additional reporting by Ashraf Fahim in Cairo; Writing by Cynthia Johnston