YANGON, Myanmar – Azerbaijan reported three people killed by bird flu, after Myanmar announced its first outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain in poultry and officials cited a strong threat that the disease also struck Afghanistan.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed or forced the slaughter of tens of millions of chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003, and recently spread to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It also has killed at least 98 people in Asia and Turkey since 2003, according to the World Health Organization tally posted on its Web site early Monday.
That human toll does not include the three deaths reported in the Caucasus nation of Azerbaijan, although officials in the former Soviet republic said late Monday that tests conducted by WHO officials had confirmed H5N1 was the cause. All three were from a district on the country's Caspian Sea coast.
Health officials fear H5N1 could evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people and become global pandemic. So far, human cases generally have been traced to direct contact with sick birds.
On Monday, the military-controlled government in Myanmar announced that the virus has infected poultry in the north of the country but that no people had been sickened.
Meanwhile, authorities said there was a "high risk" that the deadly virus had spread to Afghanistan, after tests on poultry from small farms in two cities showed the H5 subtype of bird flu. Further tests were being conducted to identify the strain.