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January 19, 2006
Iraq bird flu test sparks alarm in poultry market

Alarmed poultry traders in Baghdad markets feared economic catastrophe as word spread on Wednesday that Iraq was testing a dead girl for bird flu.

"This disease will cause disasters for us and we expect big losses because people will be scared of this flu," said Ali al-Mothafar, owner of the Ghadeer Company for Meat and Egg Production.

Iraq was testing for the human strain of the deadly bird flu virus on Wednesday after a 14-year-old girl died of a fever in the Kurdish region close to the Turkish and Iranian borders.

Health officials said Tijan Abdel-Qader, who died on Tuesday after a two-week illness, lived close to a lake that is a haven for migratory birds flying south from Turkey, where 21 people have been confirmed this month as having the H5N1 virus.

Bird flu is the last thing Iraq needs. Doctors are already overwhelmed by victims of insurgent suicide bombings and shootings and raging violence would make it difficult to move health officials and resources to fight the virus.

Iraq has been trying to secure porous borders with its neighbours, particularly Syria, since 2003 to stop the flow of foreign insurgents but with little success. Tribes living along border areas also make a living from smuggling goods.

Health officials say they need both money and expertise.

Customers at the capital's busy al-Ghazil market -- one of the few bustling businesses enterprises in Baghdad -- seemed stunned by news of the bird flu test.

"I always buy live chickens. If there are (bird flu) cases in Iraq I will stop buying chicken right away," said Mohammed Ali, a 25-year-old labourer.

Dealers worry that sales of chicken, one of the most popular foods in Iraq, will plummet.

Hassan Sadiq, a 53-year-old engineer who runs a poultry and meat company, said his business had already suffered from losses due to bird flu before news of the possible human case.

"Our business deteriorated almost 30 percent since the disease was first announced. People don't want to buy like they did before," he said.

Although the market was buzzing with talk about bird flu, some traders seemed confused about how it spreads.

Infections in humans are generally caused by bird to human transmission of the virus. Bird flu can't be spread through eating properly cooked poultry or eggs.

Sameer Dawood had gone to the market to buy inexpensive chicken for a special occassion. But his mood turned sour as soon as he heard about the bird flu test.

"I came here to buy a chicken to sacrifice for a special occassion...I always buy chicken. The bird flu will hurt the whole economic situation and the prices of red meat and fish will rise and we won't be able to buy them," he said.

Source : Reuters