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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Bird flu kills 6-year-old in Bangkok

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand confirmed its first fatality from bird flu Monday, raising the number of deaths in Asia from the disease to seven – the deadliest outbreak since 1997.
The victim was a 6-year-old boy who fell ill after playing with chickens in his village. The Thai government was awaiting test results to determine whether five other deaths were caused by avian flu, as suspected. Six people have died in Vietnam, meaning the worldwide death toll could be 12.
Bird flu has triggered mass slaughter of chickens across Asia, with at least eight countries reporting infections and a ninth awaiting test results.
Pakistan joined that list Monday, with a government official saying 1.5 million chickens died from a different strain of the virus than the one blamed for the human fatalities.
The World Health Organization said the search for a vaccine had been set back because the virus has mutated. A bird flu strain detected in Hong Kong in 1997 no longer can be used as the key to producing a vaccine, the WHO said.
The Hong Kong outbreak marked the first time scientists documented that bird flu could be caught by humans. Six people died in the 1997 outbreak, the deadliest known previous outbreak.
Scientists believe people get the disease through contact with sick birds. Although there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission, health officials are concerned the disease might mutate further and link with regular influenza to create a disease that could trigger the next human flu pandemic.
“This is now spreading too quickly for anybody to ignore it,” said WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley in Manila, Philippines.
Officials in Bangkok said they were investigating whether the virus might be carried by migratory birds.
The 6-year-old Thai boy, Captan Boonmanut, became infected in Kanchanaburi province and died Sunday night in a Bangkok hospital.
Four other people suspected of having bird flu died in Sukhothai province, the Public Health Ministry said Monday. Officials were also trying to determine if bird flu killed a 56-year-old man who bred fighting cocks.
Asian governments have killed chickens in a desperate bid to contain the disease, with Thailand slaughtering about 10 million chickens and Vietnam more than 3 million.
The outbreak has devastated Thailand’s chicken export industry which shipped about 500,000 tons of chicken worth $1.3 billion in 2003.
Thailand’s biggest markets, Japan and the European Union, have banned its poultry products.
Dr. Prasert Phongcharoen, a WHO adviser and viral disease expert, urged caution in the disposal of chicken carcasses. If infected chickens are thrown in rivers, ”the virus could spread to open pig farms and this could result in transmission from pigs to humans,” he said.
So far, six other countries have reported some strain of bird flu – Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Taiwan. Laos is awaiting test results on an illness killing its fowl, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said.
Pakistan’s commissioner for livestock husbandry, Rafaqat Hussain Raja, said Monday that 1.5 million chickens had succumbed to a strain of the virus that could not jump to humans.
An industry official said the disease had killed up to 3.5 million birds.An official at Pakistan’s WHO office, Faizullah Kakar, said the agency had not confirmed a bird flu outbreak in the country.
The reported Pakistani strain differs from the H5N1 strain blamed for the human fatalities this year, but similar strains have been known to infect humans, WHO’s Web site said.
Indonesian officials faced accusations of a cover-up.
The Jakarta Post reported Monday that Indonesian officials may have suppressed news of the outbreak at the behest of politically connected businessmen.
A team of agricultural experts said in December they provided the government with test results positively identifying the disease. A virologist, Dr. Marthen Malelo, said a powerful ”businessmen’s lobby” prevented officials from making the disease public.Indonesian officials denied the allegations.
”It’s not true. We have zero tolerance for pressure from businessmen. We are talking about the lives of people,” Agriculture Department spokesman Hari Priyono said.
Officials said the nation would start killing up to 3.8 million chickens in East Java. Bali already has slaughtered and burned thousands.

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