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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Steps taken to head off bird flu

BAGHDAD, 27 October 2005 (IRIN) - Iraq’s health ministry’s is taking preventative measures against the possible appearance of the deadly avian influenza – the so-called “bird flu” – after experts noted that some Gulf countries could be in danger of exposure to the malady.

“We have been checking hospitals throughout the country for cases which could be associated with bird flu,” said a senior ministry official Khalid Zamman. “Borders guards will also check visitors coming into the country.”

According to Zamman, officials have been concerned over the last two weeks by the appearance of hundreds of dead birds in areas of the capital and in the northern governorates of Arbil and Sulaymanyiah.

In Baghdad, flocks of dead birds were reported in the highly-populated districts of Dora, Sha’ab and al-Ghazelyia.

Samples of the dead creatures, he added, have been sent to the regional office of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cairo for further analysis.

A source at the WHO told IRIN that the samples showed no presence of the virus, but studies were still underway to confirm these results.

“We have one possible case in the capital, which is still being examined by specialists,” said Zamman. “If there is a possibility that it is the virus, we will contact the WHO to take emergency measures.”

The ministry has also formed a committee specialised in the disease and other infectious illnesses that have cropped up nationwide. “We have to be ready for anything,” Zamman explained, “and the best thing we can do is prepare our specialists for the appearance of the disease in this country.”

According to the WHO, avian influenza is a contagious disease caused by a virus that generally affects only birds and, less commonly, pigs.

“The virus is highly species-specific,” said the WHO official, but have, on rare occasions, crossed the species barrier to infect humans.”

Discovery of the virus in neighbouring countries and Europe has alarmed local doctors, who complain that the steady but unregulated entry of foreigners into the country could serve to bring the illness into Iraq. “Foreigners could introduce the disease which could rapidly infect others, due to the poor local health system,” said Dr Ahmed al-Fareed, a clinician at Yarmouk hospital in the capital.

The health ministry has requested more information about the disease from the WHO, and plans to launch a public awareness campaign on television and radio aimed at informing the populace about the disease and its means of transmission.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Health & Nutrition



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