May 22, 2006

Tests on Two Dead Iranians Show H5N1 Bird Flu

TEHRAN -- Tests in Iran on the dead bodies of a 41-year-old man and his 26-year-old sister showed they had the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, an Iranian medical official who requested anonymity told Reuters on Monday.

Serum samples from the two victims in the northwestern Iranian city of Kermanshah would be sent abroad for further testing, the ISNA students news agency reported earlier. If confirmed in international laboratories, these would be the first human bird flu deaths in Iran.

The Islamic Republic first detected cases of bird flu inside the country in February, when the virus was found in wild swans.

ISNA quoted a doctor at Kermanshah's medical university as saying four patients had been tested, two of whom had died and one of whom was in a critical condition.

The H5N1 virus remains mainly a virus of birds, but experts fear it could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world, killing millions within weeks or months.

The virus has killed 123 people since late 2003, most of then in Asia, according to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization. Iraq and Egypt have also reported deaths from the virus in recent months.

So far, most human cases can be traced to direct or indirect contact with infected birds.