April 23, 2009 / 7:59 PM / 9 years ago

Egyptian woman contracts bird flu as cases mount

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian woman has contracted the highly pathogenic bird flu virus after coming into contact with infected birds, state news agency MENA said on Thursday, as the virus gathers pace in the most populous Arab country.

<p>A chicken is seen at a shop in Cairo April 11, 2007. REUTERS/Tara Todras-Whitehill</p>

The case brings to 68 the number of people confirmed to have contracted the H5N1 avian influenza virus in Egypt, harder hit by bird flu than any other country outside of Asia.

Egypt has seen a surge of cases in recent weeks, with eight new human infections in April alone -- the same number as in all of 2008. Two have died. Most of the Egyptians infected this year have been young children. While the avian influenza virus rarely infects people, experts say they fear it could mutate into a form that people could easily pass to one another, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

MENA said the woman, from Tanta in the Nile Delta, fell ill with a high fever on Tuesday and was hospitalized the same day and treated with the anti-viral drug Tamiflu. She was in a stable condition, MENA reported.

Since 2003, H5N1 has infected more than 400 people in 15 countries and killed more than 250. It has killed or forced the culling of more than 300 million birds in 61 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Some 25 Egyptians have died after contracting the virus. Most of those infected had come into contact with infected domestic birds in a country where roughly 5 million households depend on domestically raised poultry as a significant source of food and income.

The World Health Organization said this month it was concerned some Egyptians may carry the bird flu virus without showing symptoms, and this could give the virus more of a chance to mutate to a strain that spreads easily among humans. Whether such cases exist will be the focus of a planned Egyptian government study, backed by the global health body.

Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Louise Ireland

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