CAIRO (Reuters) - A 65-year-old Egyptian woman has died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the health ministry said on Wednesday, the second victim of the virus this month.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says there has been a recent jump in the number of H5N1 infections in people in Egypt, but says there does not appear to have been any major genetic change in the flu strain to explain the rise in human cases.
The latest victim came from the central province of Assiut, the health ministry said in a statement. Egypt’s H5N1 cases have largely been in poor rural areas in the south, where villagers tend to keep and slaughter poultry in the home.
Seven other cases are currently being treated and three have recovered this year, the ministry said.
At least 10 people died from the disease in Egypt in 2014.
The Geneva-based WHO said on Tuesday that between Dec.4 to Jan. 6, there had been 18 new laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 infection in Egypt, including four deaths.
This was the highest ever monthly number of human cases in Egypt, the U.N. public health agency said.
The WHO has warned that whenever bird flu viruses are circulating in poultry, there is a risk of sporadic infections or small clusters of human cases.
In its report on Tuesday, it said there were “reports of an increased number of outbreaks and detections” of the H5N1 strain in poultry in Egypt, adding that this was the probable cause of the higher number of cases of infection in people.
“Although all influenza viruses evolve over time, preliminary laboratory investigation has not detected major genetic changes in the viruses isolated from the patients or animals,” the WHO said.
High pathogenic H5N1 bird flu first infected humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. It has since spread from Asia to Europe and Africa and has become entrenched in poultry in some countries, causing millions of poultry infections and several hundred human deaths.
Reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Stephen Kalin in Cairo and Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Michael Georgy and Crispian Balmer