ISLAMABAD, Dec 14: The Health Ministry on Friday confirmed that five people had been affected by bird flu, but challenged the veracity of two reported deaths linked to the H5N1 infection.

Confirming the bird flu cases, federal health secretary Khushnood Lashri said the infected patients had been quarantined and precautionary steps were being taken in cooperation with the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock to check further spread of the disease.

Three of the patients are in a hospital in Mansehra and the other two cases have been reported from Peshawar. One of the patients had been discharged from the hospital after recovery, health authorities said.

The last confirmed case had been reported on Dec 5 and there had been no fresh case, a senior health official said.

Stocks of Tamiflu, an antiviral drug used for influenza virus, have been rushed to the affected districts to meet any eventuality.

The two brothers, who were reported to have died of bird flu, were poultry workers and related to two other patients. However, the authorities were still trying to determine if the recent cases involved human-to-human transmission.

Most human cases of H5N1 are linked to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus might mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, potentially sparking a pandemic that could kill a large number of people.

Human-to-human transmissions are extremely rare, with only three previous cases in Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Mr Lashari said there was not enough evidence that the two casualties in Peshawar were victims of bird flu.

“Two brothers died from pneumonia-like symptoms, but were buried by family members before health officials could take blood samples to test for the virus.”

The World Health Organisation, he said, had been taken on board about the situation.

Symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases and other life-threatening complications.

So far this year Pakistan has reported 79 outbreaks of bird flu, the latest on Nov 29 in Murree. Of these, 53 outbreaks involved commercial and backyard poultry.

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