SULAIMANIYAH , 19 Jan 2006 (IRIN) - The Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced the death of a 14-year-old girl, suspected to have died from the avian virus, or "bird flu," in northern Iraq.
"The situation is critical, especially considering that the case was found near the border with Turkey, a country where many cases have been reported," said Kurdish regional health minister Mohammed Khashnow.
"We have started to proceed with preventive measures to guarantee a minimum of safety to our population," he added.
The victim, from the northern town of Raniya, died on arrival at the main hospital of Sulaimaniyah, roughly 300 km north of the capital, Baghdad, on Tuesday.
Her family complained that she had been sick for two weeks during which no medical assistance was offered.
"We didn't realize she had a serious disease until she stopped eating, complaining of sharp pain throughout her body," said Diar Moussa, the victim's cousin. "When we reached the hospital, she died immediately."
According to doctors in Sulaimaniyah, the symptoms were exactly like those seen in victims in neighbouring Turkey, where 22 people this month have been confirmed as having the virus.
"She was a perfect victim of bird flu," noted Dr Sardar Abbas, a clinician at the hospital. "We just need the final results of her samples to confirm it."
The town of Raniya, close to the borders of both Iran and Turkey, attracts large numbers of migratory birds each year, drawn to the nearby lake of Dukan from elsewhere in the region. The town is now in a state of alert.
In the capital, the health ministry announced that the case may represent Iraq's first documented instance of avian flu, and that a medical team had already been dispatched to the area to investigate.
Officials, however, complain that the current state of political instability wracking the country, which is occupied by a US-led military coalition, has hurt the government's ability to deal with health crises.
"The anarchy in the country, the poor sanitation and numerous regulations make it difficult to control these kinds of problems," said Abdul Jalil Hassan, a senior health ministry official.
A state of emergency was declared by the government of northern Iraq on Wednesday, while authorities have acquired two million doses of bird-flu vaccine and 10 tones of disinfectant to treat poultry farms, according to Khashnow.
Health officials, meanwhile, are hoping that the case will be an isolated one.
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