KABUL, Mar 14 (Reuters) Afghans should avoid touching chickens, President Hamid Karzai said today, as the country awaited test results to determine if bird flu found in five chickens is the deadly H5N1 strain.
There is a high risk the H5 bird flu subtype found in two different places in Afghanistan is H5N1, the United Nations said. Results of tests to determine the strain are expected later today or on tomorrow.
''Don't touch chickens at the moment, until this virus is finished,'' Karzai told farmers at an agriculture meeting in Kabul.
The H5 subtype of the bird flu virus was confirmed in three chickens in Kabul and two in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Sunday.
No suspected human cases of the disease have been reported in Afghanistan, the Health Ministry said.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said there was a high risk the virus was the deadly H5N1 strain that has infected 177 people, killing 98 of them, in parts of Asia and the Middle East since 2003.
Experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that passes easily between humans and trigger a pandemic that could kill millions.
Most people are infected by handling sick birds or their droppings but the World Health Organisation says eating well-cooked chicken meat and eggs are safe.
There is concern that Afghanistan, with weak veterinary and health sectors after decades of war, will struggle to contain an outbreak.
Agriculture officials say they don't even have protective suits that should be worn if authorities order a cull of poultry flocks.
Adding to concerns, most Afghan farmers and chicken traders are illiterate and know little about bird flu.
Authorities have made announcements on television and through mosques urging people not to hunt wild birds because of the risk from avian flu, but there has been little information about the danger to poultry.
REUTERS SI BST1622