April 1, 2009 / 5:49 PM / 10 years ago

Egyptian boy contracts bird flu virus - agency

CAIRO, April 1 (Reuters) - A two-year-old Egyptian boy has contracted the highly pathogenic bird flu virus, bringing to 61 the number of confirmed cases in the most populous Arab country, state news agency MENA said on Wednesday.

Egypt, hit harder by bird flu than any other country outside of Asia, has seen an upswing in bird flu cases over the past month, with six new human infections.

The boy, from the province of Beheira in northern Egypt, was believed to have contracted the H5N1 virus after coming into contact with infected birds, MENA quoted health ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman Shahine as saying.

The boy was taken to hospital on Monday after he came down with a high fever while visiting extended family in another province. He was being treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

Egypt is one of the few countries affected by bird flu that does not compensate farmers when poultry is destroyed, though many experts say this is the best way to ensure rapid detection of new outbreaks.

Since 2003, the H5N1 avian influenza virus has infected at least 410 people in 15 countries and killed 254 of them. It has killed or forced the culling of more than 300 million birds in 61 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Some 23 Egyptians have died after contracting the virus, most after coming into contact with infected domestic birds in a country where roughly 5 million households depend on domestically raised poultry as a main source of food and income.

While H5N1 rarely infects people, experts fear it could mutate into a form that people could easily pass to one another, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions. (Writing by Cynthia Johnston; editing by James Jukwey)

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