H5N1 confirmed in Niger

Niger has become the second African country with confirmed cases of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, a lab official said Monday.

Ilaria Capua, chief of the laboratory in Padua, Italy, that identified the H5N1 strain in birds from the deeply impoverished West African country, said the test were confirmed Monday and the government of Niger was informed. H5N1 had earlier been confirmed in Nigeria, Niger's southern neighbor, and officials had said in mid-February they were investigating whether it had surfaced in Niger.

Experts have been particularly concerned about the spread of H5N1 to Africa, unprepared for such a health crisis because of weak infrastructure . The virus is believed to have spread unchecked in Nigeria before it was identified, and Nigeria's efforts to contain it have been hampered by lack of resources and information.

Further tests were being carried out to determine how closely the strain found in Niger matched the H5N1 strain detected elsewhere in the world.

Lab chief Capua, speaking at a bird flu conference in France, said she feared the arrival of the virus in a second African country was "just the start" of the virus becoming endemic on the continent, reports the AP.


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