KABUL, Mar 30 (Reuters) Afghan health authorities are investigating the death of three children on suspicion they might have had died of bird flu, a Public Health Ministry official today said.
The H5N1 virus was confirmed in chickens in the Afghan capital and an eastern province this month and is assumed to have spread to five other provinces.
The three children died in the central province of Ghor, which has not reported any suspected cases of avian flu in chickens.
It wasn't immediately clear when the three died and other details of the case were sketchy.
But ministry adviser Abdullah Fahim said three children from the same place had recently died in the remote, mountainous province, and there had also been reports of dead wild birds in the vicinity.
An aid group working in the area, World Vision, had reported the deaths to the health department, he said.
''There are three confirmed cases of children dying because of respiratory infection but the cause is not known. It's just a suspicion,'' Fahim said.
The children had been buried and no samples had been taken.
Fahim said he did not believe the children had died of bird flu, as there had been no reports of the virus in chickens in the province.
They might have died of pneumonia, a common affliction in the mountains at this time of year, he said.
The H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread in birds at an alarming rate in recent months, sweeping through parts of Europe, down into Africa and flaring anew in Asia.
It is difficult for humans to catch but has infected 186 people in eight countries and killed 105, according to the latest World Health Organization figures.
Experts fear the virus could evolve into a form passed easily from human to human, causing a pandemic that could kill millions.
There have been no human cases in Afghanistan but there is concern that, with veterinary and health sectors still recovering from decades of conflict, the country could struggle to contain an outbreak.
Health and agriculture officials were going to investigate the case in remote Dahor village, to determine if the children had been in close contact with birds, and to check on the reports of dead birds in the area, Fahim said.
Poultry production is small in Afghanistan but many families have a few chickens in the yard.
Reuters SB BD1839