Saturday, October 29, 2005

Bird flu in Kurdish Iraq?

As if they don't have enough problems, veterinary authorities in Erbil, Iraq (near the border with Turkey) are confirming what they say is H5N1 in domestic chickens. This development was both feared and expected after Turkey confirmed an outbreak on October 8. Samples were sent to a "dedicated bird-flu testing laboratory in Egypt" for confirmation.
Regarding the suspect bird deaths, Butros said. "When we received news of deaths of chickens in a poultry farm near Khabat [30 kilometres west of Erbil] a team of experts visited the property to collect samples, and the preliminary analyses gave a positive result to the [bird flu] virus.

"Given the lack of specific labs for bird flu diagnosis in the region we sent the samples to Cairo for further testing which confirmed definitively the initial results" she added.

The local Kurdish language paper, Aso, on Thursday broke the story of the discovery of the virus in the region.

"Our personnel, along with American hygiene squads, are making every effort to inspect poultry farms in the region" Butros added, "to check out many reported deaths establish the cause and draw up health plans to deal with possible future cases." (AdnkronosInt [Italian news agency])
The US government is aware of the outbreak, apparently, and has personnel on the scene. On Thursday the US supported government in Baghdad announced an import ban on poultry from some 20 countries, but this (not surprisingly) didn't do the job. Migratory birds are notorious scofflaws.

So now avian influenza is poised to become endemic in an area "home" to 150,000 migratory Americans. Lovely.

Cautionary note, 1:11 pm EDST: I feel compelled to point out this is an (as yet) unconfirmed report. Past experience suggests caution. However, it is also a highly plausible one, and if not this time, probably soon.

Addendum, 11 pm EDST, 10/29/05: This report has disappeared from the radar screen. ProMed carried a UPI report and asked for more information early this afternoon, but since then there is no mention anywhere on the newswires I can find. If anyone knows more, leave a note in the Comments.

Update, midnight, 10/29/30: Reuters Alternet is saying it is not H5N1 but some low pathogenic strain. Hat-tip Monotreme. Glad I put a question mark in the title.