CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian woman has died of H5N1 bird flu in southern Egypt, the third person in the country to die of the illness this year, a health ministry official said on Friday.

The woman, 43, lived in a village in Assiut and had direct contact with infected birds, Ahmed Abdel Hameed, a health ministry official in Assiut, told reporters.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there has been a jump in the number of H5N1 infections in people in Egypt, but that there does not appear to have been any major genetic change in the flu strain to explain the rise in human cases.

At least 10 people died from the disease in Egypt in 2014.

The Geneva-based WHO said on Tuesday that between Dec.4 to Jan. 6, there had been 18 new laboratory-confirmed human cases of H5N1 infection in Egypt, including four deaths.

This was the highest ever monthly number of human cases in Egypt, the U.N. public health agency said.

The WHO has warned that whenever bird flu viruses are circulating in poultry, there is a risk of sporadic infections or small clusters of human cases.

Egypt's H5N1 cases have largely been in poor rural areas in the south, where villagers tend to keep and slaughter poultry in the home.

(Reporting by Mohammad Munir; Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Andrew Roche)