The dead uncle of an Iraqi girl who died last month after contracting the deadly bird flu virus also had the disease, said U.S. and U.N. officials Thursday, citing results of samples tested at a U.N.-certified laboratory in Egypt.
The man died Jan. 27 in Iraq's northern Kurdistan region and lived in the same house as his 15-year-old niece, who was confirmed as the country's first bird flu-related death. They died 10 days apart.
"We learned today that the uncle's samples came back positive from Cairo for avian influenza H5N1," said a U.S. official, who declined to be identified further because he was not authorized to release the information to the media.
The U.S. official said the tests did not indicate if the uncle had caught the virus from his niece. To date there have been no confirmed cases that H5N1 has mutated into a virus capable of being passed directly between humans. Experts fear such a development could lead to a global pandemic.
An official from the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization office confirmed that the sample from the uncle had tested positive for H5N1 when analyzed by the U.S. Navy Medical Research Unit laboratory in the Egyptian capital.
The Navy lab is certified by the United Nations' World Health Organization to conduct such tests.
But one further test must be carried out by a London laboratory certified by the United Nations' World Health Organization before the world body confirms that the uncle did in fact have bird flu H5N1.
Talib Ali Elam, FAO's Cairo-based regional officer for animal health, said the girl's family and uncle kept poultry in the district of Serkapkan in Sulaimaniyah, a Kurdish province in northeastern Iraq.
After their deaths, the family "culled all chicken, geese, turkey, ducks in Serkapkan and 36 villages around," said Elam, who visited the area as part of a U.N.-led delegation.
Elam said the U.S. Navy laboratory is working through more than 100 human samples from Iraq and at least two dozen samples from birds and cats.
H5N1 has killed at least 91 people, mostly in Asia, since 2003, but catching the disease remains extremely difficult. Cases of birds being found with the disease have recently surfaced in Nigeria plus numerous European states, including Italy, Greece and Germany, reports AP.
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