RANIYA, Iraq -- Battered by rampant violence and political instability, a new threat in Iraq was confirmed yesterday -- the country's first case of the deadly bird flu virus.
A 15-year-old Kurdish girl who died this month had the deadly H5N1 strain, Iraq and UN health officials said. The discovery prompted a large-scale slaughter of domestic birds in the northern area where the teen died as the World Health Organization formed an emergency team to try to contain the disease's spread.
''We regretfully announce that the first case of bird flu has appeared in Iraq," Iraq Health Minister Abdel Mutalib Mohammed told reporters. ''The results show infection with the deadly H5N1."
World Health Organization officials confirmed the finding, although it was not immediately clear how the girl, Shangen Abdul Qader, who died Jan. 17 in the northern Kurdish town of Raniya, contracted the disease.
The prospect of a bird flu outbreak in Iraq is alarming because the country is gripped by armed insurgency and lacks the resources of other governments in the region. Government institutions, however, are most effective in the Kurdish-run area of the north where the girl lived.
Health teams cordoned off areas in and around Raniya yesterday and began Iraq's first bird slaughter as the government asked the WHO to help prevent a large-scale outbreak.
Policeman Khalil Khudur said he led a team that killed 3,000 birds, mainly chickens and ducks, in Sarkathan, a village of about 600 homes 4 miles north of Raniya. Villagers and cars also were sprayed with chemicals to kill any trace of the disease.
But there were fears they might be too late.
Health officials are investigating the death of the girl's uncle, Hamasour Mustapha, 50, on Friday after showing symptoms similar to bird flu. At least two other people have been admitted to a hospital in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad, with similar symptoms. Another 30 samples from northern Iraq are being tested for bird flu.