Lab tests have confirmed the first outbreak of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu in war-ravaged Afghanistan, the United Nations and the government said Thursday.
A joint U.N.-Afghan statement said samples taken from six birds in the capital, Kabul, and the eastern city of Jalalabad tested positive for the virus, raising concern about how the impoverished Central Asian nation's government will deal with an outbreak of the disease, which has ravaged poultry populations across the globe and killed at least 98 people.
"The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has today been confirmed in Afghanistan in six samples," the statement said. "Thus far in Afghanistan, avian influenza remains confined to the bird population, with no human cases reported. It is imperative that the human population is protected."
The government has already sought international aid to buy protective clothing for its staff, as well as chemical disinfectant and vaccines. Afghanistan's public veterinary system is weak and no quarantine system exists to check imported poultry at borders.
In other developments:
Bird culling will begin in affected areas, markets selling poultry will be closed and disinfected and a public awareness campaign will be launched to teach people about the dangers of the virus, the statement said.
Afghanistan lies at a crossroads for migratory birds, and its neighbors, including Iran and India, have already detected outbreaks of the virus, which has killed or forced the slaughter of tens of millions of chickens and ducks across Asia since 2003.
Pakistan, which shares borders with all three infected countries but has yet to report a confirmed case of H5N1 bird flu, sent fresh samples of diseased chickens this week to London for testing, government official Muhammad Afzal said Thursday. Last month, authorities sent samples from the same two farms in the country's northwest for tests, but the results were inconclusive.
The disease has also spread to Africa, the Middle East and Europe, where on Wednesday a European Union laboratory confirmed that two wild ducks in southeastern Sweden were infected with H5N1, Sweden's National Board of Agriculture reported.
Health officials fear H5N1 could evolve into a virus that can be transmitted easily between people and become a global pandemic, but there has been no confirmation of this happening yet.