Authorities across Southeast Asia are culling millions of chickens in an effort
to contain a fast-spreading strain of bird flu. On Monday, Thailand reported
its first human death from bird flu, one of three confirmed cases of the disease
in the kingdom, and said 10 others are suspected of having the disease.
Thai officials Monday said a six-year-old boy infected with bird flu died
during the night in a Bangkok hospital.
Six people in Vietnam are also known to have died from the disease, bringing
to seven the total number of confirmed fatalities in the region.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra urged people not to panic, because
the disease is not easily transmitted to humans.
Mr. Thaksin said officials of Thailand's health and livestock ministries
are working with the World Health Organization and other international groups.
They are to meet Wednesday with ministers from other countries in the region
to discuss the outbreak.
Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said they are seeking cooperation
in several areas, including the exchange of information.
"And how can each country, especially developing countries, receive assistance
to be able to identify through our laboratory system what is this particular
disease and how to cope with it," he said.
At least eight countries in Asia have reported bird flu in their chicken
populations. Cambodia, Indonesia and Pakistan are the latest to confirm the
disease, and there are reports of birds falling ill in Laos.
The four countries have begun culling chicken flocks, but say no human cases
have been detected as yet.
Some scientists say they also expect the virus to be found in China, although
tests to date there have been negative.
World Health Organization officials have voiced concern about the speed with
which the virus has been spreading, and they warn that in humans, the latest
strain is more resistant to common antiviral drugs than the strain that caused
a bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong seven years ago.
However, the WHO representative in Thailand, Bjorn Melgaard, said that current
fears are out of proportion to the actual risk of the disease.
"There are people who get the disease, but it's not a huge epidemic that
we are facing so far," said Mr. Melgaard. "More importantly, we've seen no
evidence of human-to-human transmission."
Bird flu spreads rapidly on chicken farms. Humans contract the disease only
by coming into contact with infected birds. But officials fear the virus could
mutate to a form that humans can transmit to one another.
Around Asia, more than 10 million chickens have died of the virus, or have
been culled on government orders to prevent the disease's spread, causing severe
hardship among poultry farmers and exporters.