Iraqi Gov't Declares Bird Flu Alert in Southern Province

Iraqi authorities have declared a bird flu alert in a southern province and called for security forces to prevent people from carrying birds in and out of the area, officials said Wednesday.

The alert is the latest measure taken by Iraqi health authorities to combat the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain following last month's discovery of the country's only confirmed case of the disease in a human.

Dr. Ibtisam Aziz Ali, spokeswoman of a government committee dealing with the bird flu crisis, said Health Minister Abdel Mutalib Mohammed has declared the alert after birds suspected of possibly having the disease were discovered in Maysan province, a major southern trade route in Iraq.

Late Tuesday, Mohammed held talks in Amarah, 180 miles southeast of Baghdad, with local health authorities and tribal sheiks to brief them on the bird flu threat and government measures to combat it.

The minister said he has to "totally close" Maysan using Iraqi soldiers and police and carry out culling of poultry.

"The disease has apparently spread among local birds, not migratory birds," said Mohammed. "I have seen five centers where infections have been detected by rapid laboratory testing. Now we have declared a state of health alert."