YAOUNDE, Cameroon – The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu was detected for the first time in poultry in Myanmar and Cameroon, officials in the two nations said, in the latest sign of the disease's expanding range in Africa and Southeast Asia.
Experts over the weekend confirmed cases in hundreds of dead chickens at a farm outside of Myanmar's second largest city, Mandalay, Than Tun, director of the country's livestock breeding and veterinary department, said Monday.
Cameroon's government announced its first avian case on Sunday, becoming the fourth African country to be struck by the deadly bird flu virus.
The fatal virus was first discovered in Africa on a commercial poultry farm in Nigeria in February. It has since been reported in Niger and Egypt.
Experts have expressed concern that bird flu was likely to be spreading undetected in Africa, which is ill-prepared to deal with the virus and lacks laboratories to detect it.
Cameroon's government said the tests that confirmed the H5N1 strain were carried out in a laboratory in Paris.
Minister of Livestock Aboubakary Sarki told reporters the infected duck was among 10 birds that died in Maroua from Feb. 12-26. He said the government had already slaughtered birds in the area as a precaution, but did not say how many.
Sarki said the government had banned the sale of chicken in the affected area, but some residents contacted by phone said it was still being sold.
Cameroon also said it was reinforcing a ban on poultry imports from Nigeria and any other country affected by bird flu. Authorities imposed the ban shortly after the fatal strain was reported in Nigeria.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed or forced the slaughter of more than 140 million chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003, and has recently spread to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Health officials fear H5N1 could evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people and become a global pandemic.
At least 97 people have died from the disease worldwide, two-thirds of them in Indonesia and Vietnam, according to the World Health Organization. No human cases have been detected in Africa.
Humans and poultry live close together on small farms across Africa, as in Asia where the current H5N1 wave began and where the virus first jumped to humans.
In Myanmar, teams of experts were sent to the area to begin slaughtering chickens within a two-mile radius of the farm where the infected birds were found.
Myanmar's military government — which generally restricts the free flow of information and exercises tight control over the mostly state-owned mass media — had previously said it would deal openly with any bird flu problems.