WHO bird flu experts to investigate human-to-human concerns in Pakistan outbreak


Islamabad : International health experts have been dispatched to Pakistan to help nvestigate the cause of South Asia’s first human bird flu cases and determine if the virus could have been transmitted from person to person, ap quoted a World Health Organization official as saying Sunday.

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Four brothers _ two of whom died _ and two cousins from Abbotabad, a small city about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Islamabad, were suspected of being infected by the H5N1 virus along with a man and his niece from the same area who had slaughtered chickens, said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in Geneva.

Another person in a separate case who slaughtered poultry in Mansehra, 20 kilometers (15 miles) away, also tested positive for the disease, he said.

Details surrounding the cases remained confusing, with Pakistan’s Health Ministry issuing a statement Saturday saying six people had initially tested positive for the virus last month, while the WHO said eight had been reported. Hartl said the discrepancy was likely linked to a technicality since six patients had tested positive using an internationally recommended method while a less reliable test was used on the others.

Specimens were never collected from one of the brothers who died, and several of those who tested positive experienced only mild symptoms and were not hospitalized, Hartl said.

He added a team of WHO experts have been sent to Pakistan to help determine the cause. He said all four brothers were believed to have worked on a farm and poultry outbreaks had earlier been reported in the area, but Mohammed Tariq, 30, a teacher and brother who was sickened and recovered, said only one worked on a farm. Hartl said WHO has not ruled out limited human-to-human transmission.