The bird flu virus has killed two more people in Vietnam and a boy in Thailand,
bringing the death toll in Southeast Asia to at least 15. International health
officials say the disease is spreading, and is probably not the newcomer it originally
appeared to be.
World Health Organization officials say the bird flu virus has been in the
region longer than previously thought.
They say it is more entrenched among bird populations, and as a result, there
is a greater risk of it eventually spreading from human to human. So far, most
or all of the human infections have resulted from people handling infected
WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley says that some of the recent discoveries of
bird flu may be older infections that are just now being reported. He says
the relatively low number of human victims so far means there is no cause for
"Any talk of a pandemic is exceptionally premature," stressed Mr. Cordingley. "But
still, the virus is on the move. We do not know where it is going to pop up
next. I would say that as of today, we are losing more than we are winning."
The virus has been reported in two more provinces in China, raising the total
of infected areas there to 12. Mr. Cordingley said this is a major concern
because of China's vast population and the poor health care system in its rural
"We would describe China as our area of main concern now. We still don't
know what's going in large parts of the country," said the WHO official.
China's agriculture minister met with a WHO representative for the first
time to discuss the outbreak. The organization has been pressing for more extensive
information from China.
Mr. Cordingley says there are an estimated nine billion chickens in China
- a lot of birds to examine. He reiterated the organization's position that
there is no way to eliminate the threat of bird flu other than to destroy all
the chickens in an infected area.
The virus has also been found in two more provinces in Thailand, where the
government has killed nearly 30 million chickens. The Thai government says
it has completed its culls in most provinces, and only nine provinces remain
on the critical list. The rest are under surveillance.