Pakistan confirms first two cases of bird flu

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, reports the AP.

I.L.