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Nigeria has recorded the first human death due to bird flu in sub-Saharan Africa, the government confirmed yesterday (31 January).

A 22-year old woman, who tested positive for the H5N1 virus, died suffering from flu symptoms in Lagos on 17 January, according to the Multi-Sectoral Steering Committee on Avian Influenza in Nigeria.

Another female member of the same household has also been diagnosed with the virus but is responding to treatment, said Abdulsalam Nasidi, chairman of the Nigeria Avian Influenza Control and Human Pandemic Preparedness Response Project.

Reuters news agency report that a total of four Nigerians are suspected to have died from the disease but the virus has only been confirmed in one case so far.

As demanded by international protocols, virus samples have been sent to the World Health Organization and the US-based Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, said Frank Nweke, Nigeria's minister of information and communication.

The government is strengthening surveillance efforts across the country with particular emphasis on monitoring human contact with poultry to prevent animal-to-human and human-to-human infections.

The surveillance system is also being extended to cover all health institutions, including private facilities. Measures being put in place include risk communication, emergency medical care and infection control measures.

The government has also prioritised training for staff working as laboratory technicians and those working in surveillance and clinical management.

Nasidi said research institutes are being urged to set up disease isolation centres, and the country had increased its stocks of the bird flu drug Tamiflu.

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