Egypt orders cull of pigs over swine flu scare

Wed Apr 29, 2009 2:49pm GMT

By Cynthia Johnston

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt, hard hit by the bird flu virus, on Wednesday ordered the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of pigs as a precautionary measure as swine flu neared its borders.

The move was not expected to prevent the H1N1 virus from striking, since the illness is spread by people and not present in Egyptian swine. However, a cull of pigs, largely viewed as unclean in conservative Muslim Egypt, could help quell a panic.

Pigs are mainly raised by Egypt's Christian minority.

Experts fear a flu pandemic could spread quickly in Egypt and have a devastating impact in the most populous Arab country, most of whose roughly 80 million people live in the densely packed Nile Valley, many in crowded slums in and around Cairo.

"It is decided to slaughter all swine herds present in Egypt, starting from today," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said in a statement.

Cabinet spokesman Magdy Rady put the number of pigs that could be culled at between 300,000 and 400,000, adding that farmers would be compensated. Sporadic culling began even before the decision was announced, with about 75 pigs killed so far, officials said.

"If you see the conditions of the swine farms in Egypt, they are not healthy at all. They are hazards in themselves, even without the swine flu. That's why people are really getting afraid," Rady told Reuters before the decision was taken.

Swine flu has killed up to 159 people in Mexico and one in the United States, and cases have been reported in Europe and in Israel, which borders Egypt. No cases have been reported in Egypt, but monitoring has been stepped up at airports.   Continued...

<p>A member of the Egyptian government's animal disease department disinfects a pig farm as a precaution against swine flu in Cairo , April 27, 2009. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh</p>
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