Two more people have died after contracting bird flu, bringing to 12 the number of deaths in an epidemic that is sweeping Asia and which scientists fear may now be transmitted from person to person.
The deaths -- a 58-year-old woman in Thailand and a teenage boy in Vietnam -- come a day after the UN's World Health Organization (WHO) said two sisters who died in Vietnam last month probably caught the virus from their brother -- the first cases of human to human infection in the current epidemic.
The brother also died, but he was cremated before an autopsy could be performed and so it could not categorically be determined if he was the original source. His wife also contracted bird flu but has since recovered.
Hospital officials in Vietnam's southern city of Ho Chi Minh said the teenage boy who died yesterday had caught the virus after eating meat from a chicken with avian influenza.
"The boy was admitted to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan. 29 and tested positive for the H5N1 virus on Jan. 31," said a doctor.
If confirmed, the death would be only the second from the south of Vietnam, which has seen the bulk of bird flu infections in poultry. All the other human fatalities have been in the north.
The latest Thai victim was a woman who raised chickens in Suphanburi province 100km west of Bangkok.
Chief government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair told reporters there were nine people suspected of being infected with bird flu -- one a young boy who doctors say only has a 30 percent chance of survival.
The UN is holding a special meeting today of experts from three of its agencies -- the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health -- to discus how best to tackle the epidemic.
"The eruption of new infection cases in Thailand, China and Vietnam shows that the disease is far from being under control," said He Changthui, FAO representative for the Asia-Pacific region, at a news conference in the Thai capital.
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