June 2, 2009 / 1:58 PM / 9 years ago

Egypt detects H1N1 flu case, first in Africa

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has confirmed a case of the new H1N1 influenza virus, the first in Africa, in a 12-year-old girl who arrived in Cairo from the United States, a World Health Organization official said on Tuesday.

The girl, from Minnesota, was immediately quarantined on arrival at Cairo airport, having flown in with her mother to spend summer holidays in the most populous Arab country, health officials said.

“She is a confirmed case of H1N1 ... She has been detected at the airport by the thermal detectors,” Hassan al-Bushra, regional adviser for communicable disease surveillance for the WHO, told Reuters.

“She has been given treatment, she and her mother as well,” he added. “She is in a good condition.”

The airborne H1N1 virus had previously been detected in all regions of the world except Africa. It has been diagnosed in more than 17,000 people worldwide, and has killed more than 100, mostly in Mexico, according to the WHO.

Egypt, already hard hit by the much more deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, had stepped up surveillance measures at the airport to try to prevent the disease from getting in. The case, while the first in Egypt, is the 24th in the Middle East region.

H1N1 spreads easily and mostly causes a mild illness.

ALERTING FELLOW PASSENGERS

Egypt, whose poultry industry was decimated by the arrival of bird flu in early 2006, fears another flu 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.

Bushra said the girl, of Egyptian origin, arrived on Monday via Europe and was confirmed on Tuesday to have contracted H1N1. Her mother had not tested positive for the virus.

The Health Ministry was trying to contact 145 passengers who were on the same flight. Bushra said they would be told to watch for symptoms and see a doctor immediately if they felt ill.

The arrival of H1N1 comes amid an upswing in bird flu cases in Egypt, hit harder by the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus than any other country outside Asia. The disease is now considered endemic in Egyptian poultry.

Egypt has reported 27 cases of bird flu in humans so far this year, more than three times the number it reported in the whole of 2008, and new human infections have not significantly stalled even as the hot summer months approach.

Experts say that it is technically possible but unlikely that H1N1 — a mix of swine, human and avian flu — could find a way to combine with bird flu in Egypt to create yet another flu strain.

Egypt ordered the slaughter of all its 300,000 to 400,000 pigs on April 29 as a precaution against the H1N1 virus, in a move the United Nations said was “a real mistake.” Scientists say there is no danger of contracting H1N1 from eating pork.

Writing by Cynthia Johnston, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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