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Azeri girl, 16, treated for suspected bird flu

Written by: Staff

BAKU, Mar 30 (Reuters) Local scientists have found a strain of bird flu in a 16-year-old girl from a family in Azerbaijan which has lost three members to the H5N1 virus, Deputy Health Minister Abbas Velibeyov today said.

''To confirm the presence of the virus, we intend to send samples to the laboratory in London. But clinical observation shows this girl has bird flu,'' Velibeyov told Reuters.

Five young people, three of them from the Askerov family, have died from bird flu in Azerbaijan in recent weeks. But the girl is the first case of suspected infection announced since the first week of this month.

Velibeyov said the girl, along with a sister who has been confirmed to be suffering from H5N1, was being held in a hospital in the Azeri capital Baku. He did not say when she fell ill.

''These sisters are currently being treated and if results of this treatment are successful, we can soon let them go home as we have already done with one 10-year-old boy from the same region,'' he said.

Velibeyov said the girl had probably caught the virus via the same route as her other family members, who are thought to have been infected while plucking feathers from dead swans in their village in the south of the country.

Azerbaijan is wedged between Iran and Russia and a major route for migratory birds. It also borders Turkey, which saw a four children die in a bird flu outbreak in January.

Officials have said that with the decline of the spring migration the risk of infection from wild birds has fallen.

''I can say that the danger for Azerbaijan residents of infection with H5N1 has fallen several times and is now almost nil thanks to the localisation of the sources of infection, fewer migrating wild birds and education of the population,'' he said.

The World Health Organisation has said in the past it believes the Azeri laboratory is reliable but it also sends samples to a WHO-accredited laboratory in Britain for confirmation.

At least 105 people have died from bird flu since the virus re-emerged in late 2003, according to the most recent figures from the World Health Organisation.

Bird flu is essentially an animal disease, but can infect people who come into contact with sick birds.

Reuters SB BD1748

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