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Bird flu reaches Azerbaijan

Deadly strain 'doesn't bode well' for Africa

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(CNN) -- Health officials in Azerbaijan say the deadly H5N1 strain has been found in dead birds from the country's Caspian sea coast.

State-run Lider TV cited the results from a London laboratory that had tested the dead birds and the Ministry of Health is expected to make the announcement Friday.

Meanwhile, Nigerian authorities say they are mounting a major effort to battle the virus, which has been detected in two more states, and has so far killed more than 100,000 birds.

This is the first time the strain has been found in Africa, although no human infections have yet been reported in Nigeria.

Bird flu began ravaging poultry stocks across Asia in 2003, forcing the slaughter of 140 million birds. It has since spread to Europe and the Middle East.

So far the World Health Organization has confirmed 165 human cases of the disease in a number of nations, including Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

Eighty-eight of those have proven fatal, a fatality rate of 53 percent.

But public health experts worry that if the virus mutates, it could pick up the ability to spread rapidly from person to person. If that were to happen, a global pandemic might ensue, killing millions of people.

On Thursday, China's Ministry of Health reported an 11th person was sickened by the virus, a 26-year-old female farmer in the southeastern province of Fujian. She has been hospitalized in a stable condition.

Seven of the 11 cases in China have so far proven fatal.

Not bode well for Africa

The discovery of the disease in one part of Africa does not bode well for the rest of the continent, said Alex Thiermann, special adviser to the director general of the World Organization for Animal Health.

"We have been saying for a while that were the disease to get to Africa, it's a continent where most countries have very weak veterinary infrastructure," he told CNN.

"And we know from our experience in Eastern Europe and in Southeast Asia that the rapidity to which the disease can be fought, and how quickly we can eliminate it ... is very directly related to the quality of the veterinary infrastructures."

Nigerian Information Minister Frank Nweke Jr. said three farms were quarantined, one each in the states of Kaduna, Kano and Jos and that they could be out of operation for up to a year.

He said the government was paying farmers 250 naira ($1.95) for each bird culled to compensate for their loss and to encourage other farmers to report diseased birds.

World Organization for Animal Health spokeswomen Maria Zampaglione told CNN they would assemble a team of bird flu experts to send to Nigeria by the end of the week and that the government was being helpful in its assistance.

Part of the team's job, she said, will be to determine how the birds came to be infected.

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