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Myanmar reports human case of bird flu

Published: 9:25AM Saturday December 15, 2007 Source: Reuters

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced Myanmar's first human case of bird flu, the victim a seven-year-old girl who survived the disease.

The girl, from the northeastern Shan state, developed symptoms of fever and headache on November 21 in an area where there had been an outbreak of the H5N1 virus in poultry, and was taken to hospital six days later, the United Nations agency said.

"She has now recovered," it said in a statement quoting the Ministry of Health in Myanmar as having confirmed the case.

The infection had not been previously reported, but WHO said that the ruling junta's authorities had informed it immediately and cooperated with the Geneva-based agency.

"Myanmar brought WHO into the process quite early," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

The WHO said that the girl's illness had been detected by national authorities through routine surveillance following the area's poultry outbreak in mid-November.

"Initial findings indicate poultry die-off in the vicinity of the case's home in the week prior to the onset of illness," it said, adding that investigations continued.

So far all of the people known to have been in contact with the girl remain healthy and surveillance activities in the area have not detected any further cases, it said.

"It is obvious that whenever a human being gets infected we are concerned. But as long as the virus continues to be entrenched in the animal population, one would expect to see human cases from time to time," Hartl said.

Samples from the girl were confirmed as having the virus at a WHO collaborating laboratory in Japan, after first testing positive at a laboratory in Yangon, according to the WHO.

Myanmar's case brings to 13 the number of countries which have confirmed human cases of bird flu. Some 340 people are known to have contracted the disease, which has killed 208 of them since 2003, the WHO says.

Indonesia has the heaviest toll, with 115 human cases including 92 deaths, followed by Vietnam with 100 cases and 46 deaths.

Humans rarely contract H5N1, which is mainly an animal disease which has been reported in some 60 countries. But experts fear the strain could spark the next global pandemic and kills millions of people if it mutates.

"The fact that this is a single human case indicates the virus has not changed its behaviour. H5N1 remains a virus that is very difficult to transmit from human to human," Hartl said.