Dutch vet's death may be due to bird flu virus: Health Ministry


20 April 2003

A Dutch veterinarian has died of pneumonia after catching the contagious poultry disease bird flu, raising fears that a mutated version of the virus could cause an epidemic in people.

The 57-year-old man, who died on Thursday, fell ill two days after working on a farm infected with bird flu, or avian virus, the Health Ministry said. "It is very likely the man died of the bird flu because the virus was found in his lungs and there is no other explanation for his symptoms," the ministry said.

The veterinarian had not taken antiviral medication recommended by health authorities for people who work with sick birds.

The death came amid concerns that bird and human flu could mix in pigs and produce a mutation that humans have no resistance against.

A World Health Organisation spokesman said the disease did not appear to spread easily from human to human.

Asked if this could be the start of a European version of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), he replied: "No, we do not think that."

Bird flu has led to the slaughter more than 11 million chickens, around 10 percent of the Dutch chicken population, since the outbreak began in late February.

The disease has spilled over into Belgium from the Netherlands and is nearing Germany.

Belgian authorities have said they had spotted a second possible outbreak of the disease in poultry.

The illness is often fatal for domesticated birds, but is rarely dangerous for humans.

Scientists at have identified the virus in the veterinarian's lungs as part of the same H7 family as the bird flu virus.

The Agriculture Ministry said it would investigate the unusual death and that tests would determine if the virus had mutated.

Over 50 Dutch health workers have been infected with the disease since the outbreak began, but their only symptom was a mild eye infection, and all recovered quickly.