CAIRO, Egypt – Initial tests at a U.S. Navy lab show that a 35-year-old woman who died this week in Egypt had bird flu, officials said Saturday. If the results are confirmed, she would be the country's first known human death from the disease.
The lab in Cairo found that the woman, who died Friday, had the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, lab spokesman Andrew Stegall said. The World Health Organization will conduct further tests in an effort to confirm the findings, said Hassan el-Bushra, the WHO's regional adviser for emerging diseases.
A number of people who came in contact with the woman also are being tested, el-Bushra told The Associated Press. He would not say how many people were being tested or whether they showed any symptoms of bird flu.
El-Bushra said the additional testing would be done by a lab in London or Atlanta, but he could not say when results would be available.
Egypt's health minister, Hatem El-Gabali, said earlier that the woman — from Qalyoubiya governorate, an area north of Cairo — was raising poultry at her home and some of her birds also died, according to the official news agency MENA.
Police identified the woman as Amal Mohammed Ismail and said she was hospitalized in the regional capital, Qalyoub, about two weeks ago. She subsequently was transferred to the Cairo Fevers' Hospital, where she died.
Ismail's home since has been sealed off, police said.
The H5N1strain 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. Health officials fear H5N1 could evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people, potentially triggering a global pandemic.
That has not happened yet, but at least 98 people — excluding the Egyptian woman — have died from the disease worldwide, two-thirds of them in Indonesia and Vietnam, according to WHO figures.
If this case is confirmed, Egypt would join Turkey and Iraq as the only countries in the Middle East where humans have died of the virus, although birds in several countries have been afflicted. At least four people in Turkey and two in Iraq have died of the virus.
Official confirmation of Egypt's first cases of H5N1 in poultry last month sparked a slaughter at poultry farms across the country. Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif urged Egyptians to halt the practice of raising birds at their homes.
Raising pigeons and chickens on residential rooftops, apartment balconies or yards for household consumption or for income is a prevalent practice in Egyptian urban areas.
Reports that people were throwing birds who had died of the disease into the Nile River caused widespread panic, leading to a rush on bottled water and official pleas that people turn over dead birds to authorities.
Public fears were further stoked Feb. 19 when authorities shut the Cairo Zoo, which is flanked by residential areas. It remains closed.
The virus also has affected sellers of live fowl.