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  • Egypt and India race to control bird flu outbreaks

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Egypt and India are the latest developing nations to detect outbreaks of the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has killed 92 people since 2003.

Egypt has declared a state of emergency, having detected outbreaks in eight provinces, including the capital Cairo, since Friday (17 February). About half of Egypt's 78 million citizens live in the affected provinces.

Meanwhile, India confirmed on Saturday that H5N1 was present in eight of 12 samples it tested from Nandurbar in the western state of Maharashtra, where 50,000 chickens died in the past fortnight.

All poultry within three kilometres of the outbreak — half a million birds — are being culled. As an extra precaution, the agriculture ministry's department of animal husbandry is coordinating another cull in the neighbouring Surat district of Gujarat state.

Neither country has detected human cases, but India has quarantined farm workers who were in contact with infected birds and is testing 95 samples for H5N1 infection.

Indian health officials are conducting door-to-door surveys in the area and are taking blood samples from anyone who has flu symptoms or has been in contact with infected poultry.

Egypt has banned the transport of all live birds, feathers and poultry waste between any of its 27 provinces, and has set up a press centre to raise public awareness about the risk of disease.

"It is the time for Egyptians to stop raising poultry for household consumption on their rooftops or in their homes," says Magdah Rakha, head of preventive affairs at Egypt's health ministry.

Rakha believes migratory birds are the most likely source of the outbreaks and that Egypt expects to detect more in the coming weeks, as more birds pass through the country.

Migratory birds are also thought to have brought H5N1 to India, which in February 2004 banned poultry imports from countries that had had outbreaks of the virus.

The High Security Animal Disease Laboratory in Bhopal, which detected H5N1 in samples from Nandurbar, told SciDev.Net however, that it has not received any dead migratory birds from the area for testing.

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