BEIJING and GENEVA -- Since the beginning of February 2006, the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus has spread to affect wild or domestic birds in 17 new countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

In this statement, Director-General of the World Health Organization Dr. LEE Jong-Wook reconfirms that, when poultry products are safely handled and properly cooked, humans are not at risk of acquiring H5N1 infection through food.



Although the H5N1 virus is highly infectious among poultry, it is not easily transmissible to humans. Since December 2003, this virus is known to have infected 173 people, of whom 93 have died. Not one of these cases has been linked to the consumption of properly cooked poultry or poultry products.



The main health risk currently is to people who are in close contact with infected poultry, such as families with backyard flocks and poultry workers in wet markets or live animal markets.



Heightened surveillance among domestic and wild birds, rapid detection of the virus, and swift implementation of control measures are important in supporting and maintaining consumer confidence in the safety of poultry products.



Globally, the evidence demonstrates that there is no risk of infection when birds and eggs are well-cooked, as this kills the virus. Poultry products are important sources of protein throughout the world.



Feb. 27 WHO avian influenza human infection updates



China



The Ministry of Health in China has reported two additional laboratory confirmed cases of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. Both patients are in critical conditions.



The first patient is a 9-year-old girl from the eastern province of Zhejiang. She developed symptoms on 10 February. Symptom onset followed a visit to relatives in the adjacent province of Anhui. No animal outbreaks have been reported in Zhejiang Province since 2004.



The second patient is a 26-year-old female farmer from Anhui Province. She developed symptoms on 11 February following contact with diseased poultry. Local agricultural officials have reported isolation of the H5N1 virus in samples from dead poultry in her neighbourhood.



To date, China has reported 14 laboratory-confirmed cases. Of these, eight have been fatal.



The H5N1 virus is now considered to be endemic in birds in large parts of China. WHO is working with national authorities to increase public awareness of the disease, encourage populations to report outbreaks, and warn people to avoid contact with dead or ill birds.



Indonesia



The Ministry of Health in Indonesia has confirmed an additional case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The case, which was fatal, occurred in a 27-year-old woman from West Java Province. She developed symptoms on Feb. 13 and died on Feb. 20.



Investigations carried out by local authorities found reports of chicken deaths in the woman's neighbourhood four days prior to her onset of symptoms.

The newly confirmed case brings the total in Indonesia to 27. Of these, 20 were fatal.



SOURCE: World Health Organization via PR Newswire.