Sun, Jan 25, 2004 - Page 3 News List

WHO confirms bird flu death

FLU FEARS Vietnam reported another death due to the illness, while the Thai prime minister continued to deny having covered up the outbreak

AP AND STAFF WRITER , BANGKOK AND TAIPEI

A young girl, who is suspected of contracting bird flu, cries as she is treated by a nurse at Hanoi's National Pediatric Institute on Tuesday. A 13-year-old boy has died of bird flu in Ho Chi Minh City, taking the death toll from the disease in Vietnam to at least six people.

PHOTO: AFP

Thailand's prime minister yesterday denied covering up a bird flu outbreak in his country, as the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed another death in Vietnam from the virus, bringing Asia's toll to as many as seven people.

Vietnam and Thailand are the only countries this year where avian flu has been passed on to humans. But the virus has stricken or exposed millions of chickens in six Asian countries, raising fears it might mutate, link with regular influenza and foster the next flu pandemic among humans.

Together with the re-emergence of SARS, Asia was on a region-wide health alert as governments scrambled to contain the bird flu outbreak, stepping up mass chicken culls.

Fears the disease was spreading, however, remained high as the WHO confirmed two new cases of bird flu in southern Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City, which previously had not reported any patients.

One of the cases -- a 13-year-old boy -- died on Thursday, bringing the toll to as many as seven, while the virus has also sickened an 8-year-old girl, who is in critical condition. Five others had earlier died in Vietnam while a man, who bred fighting cocks and was suspected of having avian flu, died in Thailand on Friday.

Thailand health ministry spokeswoman Nitaya Janleungmahaphon denied media reports yesterday that a woman who died in northern Sukhothai province last week was suspected of having the bird flu virus.

"She wasn't put on our list of suspect cases," Nitaya said.

So far it is thought that all the human victims caught the disease from fowl. But the WHO fears bird flu is highly adaptable and might leap the species barrier, combine with a human flu virus and create a dangerous new form.

It says anyone exposed to the disease should be quarantined to avoid contact with sufferers of regular human influenza, because a hybrid virus might accelerate the spread of the disease.

Bird flu has swept through Cambodia, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand where two boys, aged six and seven, are seriously sick and two other people are thought to have been exposed.

A massive slaughter of chickens is underway to stop the spread of the virus. But the operation has its own risks. The WHO has warned that workers involved in culling can be exposed.

Vietnam yesterday reported the disease has been detected in 24 of its 64 provinces, with more than 3 million chickens dead or slaughtered to contain the flu's spread. More than 7 million chickens have been killed in Thailand since November.

Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday denied accusations that his government tried to cover up the outbreak.

"There has been a lot of talk that the government has been trying to cover this up," Thaksin said in a weekly radio address. "That we didn't say anything doesn't mean we weren't working. We've been working very hard."

Taiwan waits for a call

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced yesterday it will hold an Asia-Pacific summit on Wednesday to discuss the outbreak.

Officials in Taiwan said they do not yet know whether they will be invited.

"So far, I have not received of any confirmation regarding being on this summit's invitation list," said Yeh Ying (葉瑩), deputy director-general of the Council of Agriculture.

According to the Central News Agency, the summit aims to invite public health, agriculture and economic officials of countries that have experienced bird flu outbreaks, as well as worldwide experts to discuss possible solutions to bird flu.

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