20 May 2009 15:58:06 GMT

CAIRO, May 20 (Reuters) – Two Egyptian boys have contracted the highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu virus, bringing the total number of cases in the most populous Arab country to 74, state news agency MENA said on

Egypt, hit harder by bird flu than any other country outside Asia, has seen a surge in cases in recent weeks with 14 new human infections and four deaths reported since April 1 — more than the country saw in all
of 2008. The children — a 4-year-old boy from Daqahlia in the Nile Delta and a 3-year-old boy from Sohag in the south — were admitted to hospital with high fever and were in a stable condition after being treated with Tamiflu, MENA said. It quoted a health ministry spokesman as saying that both boys had been in contact with birds suspected of being infected with the disease. The new
infections came just days after a 4-year-old girl died of the virus on Monday. Overall, 27 Egyptians have died after contracting the virus.

Most Egyptians who contracted the disease fell ill after coming into contact with infected domestic birds in a country where roughly 5 million households depend on domestically raised poultry as a significant 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. (Writing by Alastair Sharp; editing by Philippa