Iraq doctors are investigating if 15-year-old girl in northeast died from bird flu

Iraqi doctors are investigating if the deadly bird flu virus was responsible for the death of a 15-year-old girl in Kurdistan near the border with Turkey and Iran, an Iraqi Health Ministry official said Wednesday.

The girl died Tuesday after contracting a severe lung infection in her home town of Raniya, just north of a reservoir that's a stopover for migratory birds from Turkey, the site of a recent bird flu outbreak.

Kurdish officials have begun to burn and bury dead birds, as well as kill any migratory birds they capture, Kurdistan Health Minister Mohammed Khoshnow said.

The girl's family apparently kept chickens in their house and some of those birds also died, said Dr. Abdul Jalil Naji. Raniya is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Turkish border and just 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Iran. The investigation comes as at least 19 people in Turkey are known to have contracted the deadly H5N1 strain. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that bird flu might already have spread from Turkey to neighboring countries, including Iran and Iraq. But there have been no reported cases in Iraq.

Naji said a team of experts from the Health Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry were headed to Sulaimaniyah, where the girl was taken before she died, to investigate. A health official in Sulaimaniyah, Sherko Abdellah, said an initial autopsy found no evidence of bird flu in the girl but blood samples have been sent to Amman, Jordan for more tests.

However, in Jordan, a leading Health Ministry official, Dr. Adel Balbeisi, said that the Jordanian laboratories had not received any blood samples from Iraq and were told samples would be sent to them, the AP reports.

Experts are concerned that the virus could mutate into a form that would spread easily among humans, triggering a pandemic capable of killing millions. Officials in northern Iraq have banned the importation of birds from neighboring Turkey as a measure to fight the spread of bird flu, officials said earlier this month.