Fourth bird flu death in a week in Egypt: reports

( AFP ) - Egypt's health ministry said another woman has died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the fourth such death in a week, local media reported on Tuesday.

Hanem Atwa Ibrahim , 50, from Damietta north of Cairo, died late on Monday in a hospital in the capital and was the 19th death from the disease in Egypt, the state-owned daily Al- Ahram reported.

Atwa was admitted to hospital on December 24 and had been in critical condition ever since.

Another woman, 36-year-old Fardos Mohammed Haddad from the Nile Delta province of Menufia , also died on Monday from the disease.

On Sunday, Fatma Fathi Mohammed, 25, from the Nile Delta province of Daqahliya , died of bird flu just days after the death of Ola Yunes Ali.

Another woman, a chicken seller from Menufia , has been in hospital since December 26 and is currently recovering in intensive care, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Egypt's location on major bird migration routes and the widespread practice of keeping domestic fowl near living quarters have led to it being the hardest-hit country outside Asia.

The government says it is conducting a vigorous campaign to combat the spread of the virus through vaccinations and raising awareness, but experts and officials have warned against people dropping their guard.

Health Minister Hatem al- Gabali warned on Sunday against "slackness in the preventive measures taken to fight bird flu especially as winter approaches."

Some experts believe the government has not done enough and tends to react rather than act.

Talaat Khatib , a professor of food hygiene at Assiut University, said on Monday the government awareness campaign was not comprehensive enough.

"Most doctors can't even recognise the symptoms of bird flu on a human being," he told AFP by telephone.

There have been 43 cases of bird flu in humans since the disease was first recorded in Egypt in February 2006.

Before Ali's death a week ago, no bird flu fatality had been recorded in six months.

"People became too relaxed, poultry shops began to reopen and the old slaughtering techniques came back without proper supervision from the authorities," Khatib said.

Health ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman Shahin has urged the public to remain vigilant and deplored the relaxation of precautions because of the belief that the virus had disappeared.

He called for "banning the raising of fowl in towns, transporting them between provinces without authorisation and also reinforcing controls on where they are raised and sold."

He also warned that sick people denying they have been in contact with contaminated domestic fowl makes it more difficult to detect the virus and to treat it.

Women and children have borne the brunt of the virus because of their role in taking care of domestic fowl.

The WHO said earlier this year that countries around the world had improved their defences against bird flu, but the situation remained critical in Egypt and Indonesia where the risk of the H5N1 virus mutating into a major human threat remains high.

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