A 15-year-old girl has died of the bird flu in Iraq, health officials there and abroad said today, a finding that indicates that the virus has arrived in yet another country — one whose ability to control contagion is likely to be hampered by war.
The confirmation of the cause of the girl's death also suggests, officials said, that the disease may be spreading widely — and undetected — among birds in the countries of central Asia, which are poorly equipped to identify and report infections. Avian flu has never been reported in birds in Iraq.
As happened in Turkey earlier this month, the spread of the H5N1 strain of bird flu to a new part of the world became evident only through a human death. That is notable, and alarming to health officials, because bird flu rarely infects humans, and usually does so late in the course of an animal outbreak, after close contact with sick birds.
"We shouldn't be seeing human cases first, and this points to serious gaps in surveillance," a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, Maria Cheng, said in Geneva. "But given the situation in Turkey, I don't think we'd be surprised to see isolated humans cases in surrounding areas."
Read the whole story in the NY Times. Effect Measure points out that the quick measures taken in Turkey are unlikely to be implemented with the same urgency in Iraq, making this a potentially more dangerous situation.