Deadly H5N1 bird flu discovered in Pakistan

Pakistan 's beleaguered poultry industry braced for a further drop in sales after the government announced Tuesday the country's first two cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. H5 avian influenza was detected in chickens at two farms in northwestern Pakistan last month, sending chicken sales tumbling by 40 percent, according to an industry association. The government said tests conducted in Britain confirmed the subtype to be H5N1.

The Agriculture Ministry said it had taken all necessary measures to stop it spreading further in Pakistan but urged farmers to be vigilant. "We are continuously watching to see whether there is another outbreak elsewhere (in Pakistan )," ministry spokesman Mohammed Afzal told Geo television.

Neighboring India , Iran and most recently, Afghanistan , have already reported H5N1 outbreaks, but officials confirmed this was the first in Pakistan . "This has never happened in our life. This is for the first time in our history that this (H5N1) has been reported," said Rana Mohammed Akhlaq, the ministry's deputy animal husbandry commissioner.

Pakistan 's two cases were detected at a commercial farm in Charsadda, near Peshawar , the capital of North West Frontier Province , and at a small breeder farm in hill resort city of Abbottabad . The ministry said the farms were quarantined, 25,000 chickens slaughtered and farm workers given medical checkups. The workers were found to be free of infection.

"So far no new farm or bird has been found to be affected with the disease anywhere in the country," a ministry statement said. It urged all poultry farmers to increase the level of "bio-security" at their farms and immediately report any abnormal or high mortality among poultry.

Raza Muhammad Khursan, chairman of Pakistan Poultry Association, said chicken sales had decreased by 40 percent since last month, and expected a heavy impact from Tuesday's announcement.

"This will affect our industry heavily unless awareness is created among people that the virus was confined to only two farms and not found anywhere else in the country," he said. Khursan said that by cooking chicken well, people could avert the risk of infection for humans.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed or forced the slaughter of tens of millions of chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003, and recently spread to Europe , Africa and the Middle East . Health officials fear H5N1 could evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people and become a global pandemic.

That has not happened yet, but about 100 people have died from the disease worldwide, two-thirds of them in Indonesia and Vietnam , according to the World Health Organization. In 2003, between 3 million and 4 million chickens were killed in Pakistan after an outbreak of the less dangerous H7N3 strain of bird flu, reports the AP.

N.U.