Pak monitors farm workers after birdflu outbreak

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ISLAMABAD, Apr 17: Pakistani authorities were monitoring the condition of four poultry farm workers confined to their homes after an outbreak of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus at a farm near Islamabad, an official said today.

The Agriculture Ministry confirmed the outbreak yesterday, the first since two farms in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) were found to be infected in February.

All four workers were at their homes, but they had not been quarantined, said Jalil Kamran, head of the National Institute of Health's epidemic investigation cell. Samples of blood and throat swabs had been taken from them for testing, he added.

''They have been asked to inform local health officials immediately if they feel (a rise in ) temperature or flu,'' he said, adding that test results were expected later this week.

The 3,500 birds at the farm had been destroyed.

The authorities also started checking for symptoms among people living within five km (three miles) of the farm, including children attending a school in the neighbourhood.

So far Pakistan has not reported any cases of humans contracting the disease, but officials were aware that they lacked the resources needed for proper monitoring.

''An effective system needs money, and that is what we don't have,'' Rana Ikhlaq, the agricultural ministry's deputy commissioner, told Reuters.

He said his department required at least million to strengthen 12 laboratories in Pakistan's four provinces.

The virus has spread across Asia, into parts of West Asia, Africa and Europe since 2003.

Scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that jumps easily between people and starts a global flu pandemic.

Only 194 people are known to have been infected so far worldwide and 109 have died.

However, scientists say millions of people could be infected in a human pandemic but with a much lower mortality rate.

The H5N1 virus has been found in Pakistan's neighbours including Afghanistan, India and Iran.

Reuters

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