YAOUNDE, Mar 12 (Reuters) Cameroon today became the fourth country in Africa to report an outbreak of bird flu after the disease was detected in young chicks in the West African country's northernmost province.
''The first case of bird flu has been detected in the Far North province,'' the government said in a statement read on state radio.
''The case was detected after laboratory tests conducted on dead chicks in Maroua (in Far North province) were positive,'' it added.
The statement did not specify whether the outbreak was of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza strain, which has already been confirmed in domestic poultry flocks in Nigeria, Niger and Egypt.
Cameroon's Far North province borders to the west with Nigeria, where Africa's first outbreak of H5N1 bird flu was confirmed on February 8.
As the disease spreads in Africa, international experts are concerned that the world's poorest continent, already saddled with HIV/AIDS and malaria, is ill-equipped to combat this new health threat.
Suspected poultry outbreaks in Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia and Sierra Leone are already under investigation.
Bird flu has killed at least 97 people in Asia and the Middle East since 2003. Victims contract the virus through close contact with infected poultry.
Health officials are concerned that infection across Africa, where millions live in close contact with poultry in their homes and backyards, will increase the probability that the virus will mutate to become transmissible between humans.
Reuters CH BD1521