Human bird flu cases rises to 185, with more than half fatal

The U.N. health agency on Friday raised to 104 the confirmed human death toll from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, adding a 3-year-old Cambodian girl who died earlier this week. The World Health Organization said the total number of confirmed human infections since the current outbreak began in 2003 has reached 185. Virtually all the individuals were exposed to the disease in poultry.

The Cambodian girl, who lived in Kampong Speu Province , west of Phnom Penh in the southern part of the country, was the first human in Cambodia to die of H5N1 in nearly a year. She was the fifth confirmed case of H5N1 in the country. The previous four individuals, infected between January and April of 2005, also died. They had lived in the adjacent Kampot Province , which borders Vietnam .

"The child developed fever on March 14," a WHO statement said. "Her condition deteriorated rapidly and she was hospitalized in Phnom Penh on March 20. She died on March 21. Samples from the girl tested positive for H5N1 infection at the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia ." The H5N1 strain of bird flu remains difficult for humans to catch, but health experts fear it could mutate into a form easily transmitted among people, setting off a human pandemic.

WHO said backyard poultry started dying in the child's village in February. The child is known to have played with chickens, including some showing signs of illness, it said. It said a team from the WHO and the Health Ministry found seven residents of the village had fever, but none of the respiratory symptoms typical of the disease.

"All had a history of recent contact with diseased birds or had been involved in caring for the child," it said. "Although none of these people presently shows symptoms compatible with H5N1 infection, all have been placed under medical observation as a precaution." They and chickens in the area are being tested for the H5N1 virus, WHO said, reports the AP.


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