Vietnam confirmed a new bird flu death to bring Asia's human toll to 30 yesterday, while Thailand rued its flawed efforts to control the epidemic after reporting its first likely case of the virus jumping from one person to another.
"Bird flu is a big problem ... we have to help each other manage. We have to fight a war to eliminate the bird flu," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said, addressing an emergency meeting of 76 provincial governors.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Chaturon Chaisang conceded that the government has not done a good job of educating poultry breeders, especially small-time farmers in rural areas, about the disease.
"The people who live in rural areas who raise chickens are not well informed and lack a sense of awareness about the dangers," Chaturon told reporters before a meeting with health and agriculture ministry officials.
Chaturon, who heads a panel on efforts to prevent the disease's spread, said government ministries had failed to work together properly on bird flu and that better coordination was "urgently needed."
On Tuesday, Thai health authorities confirmed that Pranee Sodchuen, a 26-year-old woman, died Sept. 20 of bird flu, probably after catching the disease while taking care of her daughter Sakuntala.
The 11-year-old, who is believed to have been ill with the disease, died Sept. 12 but was cremated before tests to confirm the disease could be conducted. Pranee's 32-year-old sister, who also tended to Sakuntala in the hospital, was diagnosed with bird flu on Monday and is now in an isolation ward.
Pranee became Thailand's 10th confirmed victim of the disease, and the overall toll stood at 30 in the region after Vietnam -- the only other country to confirm human deaths -- yesterday reported its 20th fatality.
The 14-month-old baby in Hanoi was sickened with bird flu's typical symptoms of fever and coughing on Aug. 28 and died Sept. 5, a Vietnamese Health Ministry official said on condition of anonymity.
Addressing the governors' meeting, Thaksin asked them to boost cooperation among themselves and with public health and agriculture ministries for around-the-clock surveillance of bird flu over the next month.
Pranee is the first person believed to have contracted the disease from another human, rather than poultry. International health experts said that so far the transmission of the virus from Sakuntala to Pranee looks like an isolated dead-end incident.
"At the moment I think it's ... a one-alarm fire, not a four-alarm fire," flu expert Dr. William Schaffner said overnight at Vanderbilt University in the US.
In a statement yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said "inefficient, limited human-to-human transmission" may occur on rare occasions, implying that it doesn't pose a danger of pandemic proportions. But investigators must determine whether the human to human transmission "has been efficient and sustained" in the Thai case. If that is proved, it "would be cause for alarm, as it might signal the start of an influenza pandemic," the WHO said.