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Experts Probe Boy's Death in Iraq Amid Bird Flu Fears

Iraqi health experts are investigating the death of a boy in southern Iraq to see if he had the bird flu, a top health official said Tuesday.

It is the first suspected case of the virus beyond the northern Kurdistan region, where the deadly H5N1 strain killed a 15-year-old girl on Jan. 17.

Dr. Haider Abdul-Ridha said a 14-year-old pigeon seller died Sunday at Sadr General Hospital in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad.

Health authorities have sent samples of the boy's blood to a laboratory in Baghdad for further testing, said Abdul-Ridha, director of the communicable disease department at Amarah health department.

Abdul-Ridha said it could take up to 10 days to get results back indicating whether the boy had the H5N1 strain.

Another Amarah health official said authorities have removed all pigeons from the boy's house, some of which later died, and conducted tests on the birds and their droppings. So far the results have been inconclusive.

Authorities are also awaiting results on samples taken from the girl's uncle, who died on pulmonary complications on Jan. 27.

Iraqi health officials have been battling to contain the outbreak in northern Iraq, culling more than 500,000 birds and alerting authorities around the country.

Health experts have not confirmed yet how the 15-year-old girl contracted the disease, but they suspect she may have been infected by chickens that were brought into her family home in Raniya, about 60 miles south of the border with Turkey.

Turkey has had at least 21 cases of the deadly virus and both it and Iraq also lie on a migratory path for numerous species of birds.

According to WHO, about 160 cases of the virus have been reported worldwide, and at least 85 people have died. Almost all of those who died were in Asia, and most are believed to have come into contact with infected birds.