|5 of 7 avian flu victims dead|
Geneva — The World Health Organization has confirmed seven human infections of H5N1 avian flu in Azerbaijan, including a cluster of six cases.
Five of the cases have died and an investigation into whether the cluster represents some human-to-human transmission continues.
Though confirming the source of the infections may prove to be impossible, experts say this could be the first observed case of transmission of avian influenza to humans from wild birds.
“That would be the first that I know of,” said Dr. Nancy Cox, head of the influenza branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
The investigation, conducted with the help of an eight-person WHO team in Azerbaijan, points to exposure to sick or dead wild birds.
“There are hints it may have had something to do with defeathering dead swans,” Mr. Thompson said.
A WHO statement referred to the fact that carcasses of dead swans were discovered in the village where the family lived, Daikyand settlement in the Salyan Rayon region.
Swans seem to be particularly susceptible to the H5N1 virus; the discovery of dead swans has been the first sign of the virus in a number of European countries.
“In this community, the defeathering of birds is a task usually undertaken by adolescent girls and young women,” the WHO statement said.
“The WHO team is today investigating whether this practice may have been the source of infection in Daikyand, where the majority of cases have occurred in females between the ages of 15 and 20 years.”
Six of the cases lived in the village of about 800 homes. Five were members of an extended family and one was a family friend.
“Interviews with surviving family members have failed to uncover a history of direct exposure to dead or diseased poultry for several of the cases,” the statement said.