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Bird flu spreads in Ghana

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has spread to fowl in the West African nation of Ghana.

Earlier this week, Ghanaian officials said they were investigating a suspected outbreak of the disease in birds around the eastern port city of Tema. Though H5N1 had been documented elsewhere in the region, Ghana had not previously had a case confirmed, said Dr. George Amofa, head of public health for Ghana's Health Ministry.

Sophia Twum-Barimah, a spokeswoman for WHO in Ghana's capital, Accra, said the virus was first detected by a Ghanian lab and then confirmed by an Egyptian research center.

H5N1 has killed at least 172 people worldwide since it began its spread through Asian poultry in 2003, according to WHO. Most human deaths come from contact with infected birds, but experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a form that spreads easily among people.

Africa's most populous nation, Nigeria, was the first on the continent to report an outbreak of the disease last year. Outbreaks have also been reported in Cameroon, Djibouti, Egypt, Niger, Ivory Coast, Sudan and Burkina Faso.

Ghana had stepped up surveillance to try to prevent incursion of the disease: banning imported poultry and related products from Asia and some neighboring countries, including Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

The virus is particularly worrisome in Africa, where poverty and poor health care means disease spreads quickly.

In January, a young woman became the first Nigerian to die from H5N1. Djibouti and Egypt have also reported infections in humans and eleven people have died of the disease in Egypt.