– The Egyptian government has likely downplayed the number of reported human bird flu cases in order to ensure high annual tourist volumes
– Measures, such as closing down poultry butcher shops, were taken in effort to curb the number of cases and spread of disease
– Egypt will likely continue to face a growing number of human cases and deaths in the coming years
In Egypt, there have been 43 human cases of bird flu since the disease was first recorded in February 2006. When the first case was publicized, Cairo reacted swiftly. Nearly all poultry butcher shops in largely tourist areas closed down instantly. Residents who practiced husbandry were quick to throw their chickens, roosters, and hens off of the rooftops, leaving hundreds dead on the streets of Cairo. Western and other tourist-driven restaurants changed their menus, omitting any poultry dish as a dining option. For months, people were afraid to walk near any open butcher markets to avoid any chicken remnants, or live chickens.
However, after several months, around the summer of 2006, butcher shops began to reopen and poultry dishes began to reemerge on major restaurant menus. People began to forget about bird flu and return back to their normal cultural and traditional practices. Steadily, the H5N1 virus began to resurface, rekindling fears; however, it did not yield the same initial reactions as in February 2006. One of the reasons may be because the majority of bird flu cases have been diagnosed and confirmed in northern Egypt and predominantly in women and children, and thus, did not impact the main tourist city of Cairo.
H5N1 Cases Increase, but No Pandemic
Four women recently died from a strain of the bird flu virus in one week last month. All four women were from the Nile Delta region. Domestic birds in their homes in Upper Egypt infected three of the four women. The fourth was a poultry seller from a town far north of the city of Cairo. Their deaths brought the number of people who have died of the H5N1 strain of avian flu to 19 since it was first detected in Egypt in 2006. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) regional office, in Cairo, sixteen other suspected cases were admitted to the hospital on January 2, 2008. Despite the rapidly increasing number of human cased diagnosed and confirmed, health officials deny that Egypt is afflicted by an influenza pandemic.
Prior to the recent outbreak, the last reported case of a human death from H5N1 was in June 2007. Similar to when the avian flu first broke out in Egypt, people began to revert back to their previous habits of raising poultry inside their homes because, for many, that is their main source of income
Most Effective, but Most Difficult Remedy
Egypt has taken extensive precautionary measures against bird flu, such as forming a higher committee that convenes every month and includes representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, the different provinces and security forces. However, bureaucratic and administrative oversight alone will not remedy the root of the problem Egyptians are facing.
In order to effectively curb the number of human bird flu cases and deaths in Egypt, a permanent nationwide alteration to the cultural and social practices must take place, including limiting the close living quarters between humans and animals.
However, it would be extremely difficult and almost impossible to implement such a drastic change to Egyptian society, especially those in Upper Egypt, where raising birds at home is the only means of income.