First Iraqi Bird Flu Death Confirmed

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Qader's mother insisted to AP reporters that her daughter did not die of bird flu, though she reported that several of the family's chickens had died, as had other birds in the area.

"My daughter did not die from bird flu," Fatima Abdullah, 50, told AP. "She did not like chickens nor had anything to do with them. She did not take care of these birds."

So far, human victims of the H5N1 virus appear to have acquired the disease from close contact with infected poultry rather than by transmission from person to person.

Experts warn that if the H5N1 virus, or another strain, mutates into a form that can be easily transferred between people, a global pandemic could be imminent.

Such an outbreak could rival the notorious 1918 "Spanish flu," which may have killed as many as 50 million people around the globe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that H5N1 has so far infected about 160 people in seven countries, killing at least 85 worldwide since the first bird-human transmission in 2003.

WHO is dispatching a team of experts to northern Iraq to test poultry and about a dozen people who have been hospitalized with bird-flu-like symptoms.

But Iraq's disease-monitoring infrastructure is sorely lacking, and violence and civil unrest could well complicate efforts to monitor and check the spread of disease.

The confirmed cases have so far been limited to Iraq's Kurdish north, which has long enjoyed a measure of autonomy and has been least impacted by the turmoil that grips much of the country.

Iraqi Kurdistan health officials said that domestic officials had begun culling hundreds of thousands of domestic birds in Raniya and other nearby villages in an effort to check the disease.

UN experts warn, however, that widespread culls may be difficult. If the cash-strapped nation is unable to compensate poultry farmers, it seems unlikely that they will consent to the destruction of their cash crop.

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