Health Ministry of Algeria reports bird flu ruled out in suspect case

A family of four hospitalized and tested for bird flu do not have the disease, Algeria's Health Ministry said Wednesday. Initial results were negative. Some 80 percent of results from second tests show that the four people hospitalized in the western city of Oran do not have any virus, said ministry spokesman Slim Belkessam. "The remaining 20 percent of tests will allow us to say what illness they have, but it will not be bird flu," Belkessam said in a telephone interview. He said he got his information from scientists at the Pasteur Institute conducting the tests. The four, who live among poultry in a rural area outside Oran, were hospitalized after one family member fell ill with severe flu symptoms and quickly died.

However, Belkessam said the deceased family member, 46 years old, was known to have had tuberculosis, and "we will know with precision what exactly was the cause of his death when all results are known." Biopsies have been carried out on his body.

The four family members had slight respiratory problems and a slight fever, said Dr. Abderrahmane Attar, director of the Oran hospital where they were being treated.

He said they "are in good general health" and were hospitalized as a precaution.

Attar said authorities were worried because the victim lived in a rural area surrounded by poultry and because his death was sudden. The bird flu virus has killed at least 82 people worldwide since 2003, the large majority in Asia. It recently spread to Turkey where 21 confirmed human cases have been detected. Four children there have died over the past month.

Experts fear the bird flu virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, possibly sparking a pandemic killing millions of people.

There have been numerous false alarms since the virus began spreading, reports the AP.

D.M.