Fri May 15, 2009 11:42am EDT

CAIRO, May 15 (Reuters) – A three-year-old Egyptian boy has contracted the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus, the 71st case in the populous Arab country, the state-run news agency MENA said on Friday.

It is the second case in as many days in Egypt, which has seen a surge in infections this year.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry said the boy showed symptoms including a high temperature after coming into contact with domestic poultry, MENA reported.

The boy, from Mahalla in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, was in a stable condition in hospital and being treated with Tamiflu, the spokesman added.

Since 2003 the avian influenza virus has infected more than 400 people in 15 countries and killed 256 of them. It has killed or forced the culling of more than 300 million birds across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Egypt has been hit harder by bird flu than any other country outside of Asia.

Twenty-three Egyptians have died after contracting the virus, most after contact with infected domestic birds in a country where roughly 5 million households depend on raising domestic poultry as a major source of food and income.

While the H5N1 virus only rarely infects people, experts fear it could mutate into a form that humans could easily pass to one another, sparking a pandemic that could kill millions.

Last month, Egypt ordered the culling of all the country’s 300,000 to 400,000 pigs as a precaution against the new H1N1 influenza strain, also known as swine flu, which has infected nearly 6,000 people in more than 30 countries. The new virus has not been detected in Egypt so far. (Writing by Alastair Sharp; Editing by Jon Boyle)