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A World Health Organization laboratory confirmed today (1 February) that an Iraqi teenager who died last month had bird flu, making Iraq the seventh country with human fatalities from the disease.

Twelve more people in the Kurdistan region are being treated for suspected infection, said Iraqi officials on Monday (30 January).

Kurdistan's deputy prime minister, Imad Ahmed, told the Reuters news agency that Iraq is especially vulnerable to the virus because of it lacks diagnostic equipment and drugs, and has insufficient checks on poultry entering the country.

According to Tahseen Nameq, head of a committee set up to combat the virus, northern Iraq has only enough medicine for five people.

The WHO initially said the teenager did not have the H5N1 virus, but checked again after tests by a US Navy medical unit in Cairo indicated that she did. The UK-based WHO laboratory that conducted the follow-up test told New Scientist today that the result was positive.

The girl's uncle, who looked after her until she died on 17 January in Sulaimaniya, also developed severe respiratory disease on 24 January and died three days later.

A 54-year-old woman from the same area was hospitalised on 18 January, and is believed to be the most serious of the suspected cases.

The WHO is testing samples from the man and woman to see if they also had the virus.

Kurdistan is close to the border with Turkey, which has already reported 21 human cases of bird flu, and four deaths. North of Sulaimaniya, in Raniya, is a reservoir used as a stopover by migratory birds from Turkey.

Iraq has culled nearly half a million chickens and ducks in the north of the country to limit the risk of more outbreaks.

According to the BBC, specialists from the WHO and UN Food and Agriculture Organization will reach the region by the end of this week to assess the situation.

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