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Bird flu: UN sends team to Sudan to investigate

Bird flu: UN agency sends team to Sudan to investigate suspected human case

A team of United Nations bird flu experts arrived in Sudan today at the request of the Government to investigate a suspected human case which, if confirmed, would make Africa's largest country the second on the continent after Egypt to report human infection with the feared and often deadly H5N1 virus.

Further analysis of specimens from the suspected patient in Khartoum, the capital, are being carried out today by experts brought to Sudan by the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

“WHO is providing the Ministry of Health with technical assistance for active surveillance and strengthening of laboratories to facilitate investigations and confirmation of diagnosis and the supply of personal protective equipment,” the Geneva-based agency said in a statement.

The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Animal Resources, the Ministry of Science and Technology, WHO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other partners are working together to coordinate containment measure, increase surveillance and ensure effective response to avian influenza, it added.

The Sudanese Ministry of Animal Resources has already reported that laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of the virus in poultry in Khartoum and Gazira State. Animal samples are being sent to the intergovernmental World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) reference laboratory for further testing.

Although the virus has infected poultry and other birds south of the Sahara, including in Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, only Egypt has so far reported human cases – four in total, of which two were fatal.

Worldwide there have so far been 196 human cases, 110 of them fatal, since the current outbreak started in South East Asia in December, 2003, ascribed to contact with infected birds. But experts fear the virus could mutate, gaining the ability to pass from person to person and in a worst case scenario unleashing a deadly human pandemic.

In its statement today, WHO warned consumers that when handling raw poultry or raw poultry products such as eggs, they should wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20-30 seconds at a minimum and clean and disinfect surfaces in contact with the poultry products. Soap and hot water are sufficient for this purpose.

Consumers should avoid direct contact with infected poultry, or surfaces and objects contaminated by their faeces. Exposure to infected poultry is considered most likely during slaughter, de-feathering, butchering and the preparation of poultry for cooking.

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