Iraqi health minister declares bird flu alert

Iraqi authorities have declared a bird flu alert in the Maysan province and called for security forces to prevent people carrying birds in and out of the southern region, the health minister and a top official said Wednesday.

The alert is the latest measure taken by Iraqi health authorities to combat avian influenza H5N1 following last month's discovery of the country's only confirmed bird flu case in a human to date.

Dr. Ibtisam Aziz Ali, spokeswoman of a government committee dealing with the bird flu crisis, said Health Minister Abdel Mutalib Mohammed has declared the alert after birds suspected of possibly having avian influenza were discovered in at least five of parts of Maysan province which borders Iran and is a major southern trade route in Iraq.

Late Tuesday, Mohammed held talks in Amarah, 290 kilometers (180 miles) southeast of Baghdad, with local health authorities and tribal sheiks to brief them on the bird flu threat and government measures to combat it.

The minister said he has to "totally close" Maysan using Iraqi soldiers and police and carry out culling of poultry.

"The disease has apparently spread among local birds, not migratory birds," said Mohammed. "I have seen five centers where infections have been detected by rapid laboratory testing. Now we have declared a state of health alert, " reports the AP.

I.L.