A five-year-old boy became Thailand's second bird flu fatality in two months, while Vietnam announced two new outbreaks and China its fifth human case amid concern that infection rates could soar this winter.
Thai health authorities said yesterday that lab tests showed the boy died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, which international experts fear could trigger a human pandemic if it mutates into a form easily passed between people.
The boy fell ill with fever, stomach pains and vomiting on Nov. 25 at his home in a district of Nakhon Nayok province district about 70km northeast of the capital of Bangkok, Public Health Minister Phinij Jarusombat said. He was hospitalized nine days later and died on Wednesday.
Health officials believe the boy had contact with the feces of chickens belonging to an uncle living next door. But his parents failed to give doctors a "clear history of his contact with chickens," Phinij said in a statement.
Doctors had treated him as a normal pneumonia case until just hours before he died, after bird flu suspicions were aroused.
The cause of death was not yet confirmed by the WHO.
The boy's case was Thailand's fourth reported infection since October, and the second death. They were Thailand's first new human cases of the virus in a year, and coincided with fresh outbreaks in poultry in several parts of the country.
In Vietnam, the country worst hit by bird flu, the Agriculture Ministry yesterday reported new outbreaks in two more provinces which had killed or forced authorities to destroy some 10,600 chickens and ducks.
Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat urged people not to avoid eating poultry because of bird flu fears, which he blamed for US$44 million in losses each month in the industry.
Meanwhile, the official Xinhua news agency reported that a farmer in northeast China tested positive for the H5N1 virus, but recovered after being hospitalized.
The 31-year-old woman, surnamed Liu, fell ill on Oct. 30 in Heishan County in Liaoning Province, making her the country's fifth confirmed human case, Xinhua said.
She suffered a fever and pneumonia-like symptoms, and developed breathing problems after she was hospitalized, but responded to treatment and she was discharged on Nov. 29.
Meanwhile, a report from the US' Congressional Budget Office presumes a pandemic of bird flu could cause a serious recession of the US economy, with immediate costs of between US$500 billion and US$675 billion, according to two estimates released on Thursday.
Both assume the H5N1 avian influenza now destroying flocks of poultry across Asia and parts of Europe makes the jump into humans and causes serious disease.
So far, H5N1 has killed 69 people and infected 135, but world health experts say it is very close to mutating into a form that easily passes among people.
If it does, it would likely closely resemble the 1918 pandemic strain of flu that killed anywhere between 20 million and 100 million people during World War I, both reports say. This means 30 percent of the population would be infected and more than 2 percent would die, the report says.