Warning of 'second wave' of bird flu

A Thai health official warned on Monday that authorities must prepare for an expected second onslaught of bird flu, as Vietnam reported the region’s 19th fatality from the virus that has ravaged poultry farms across Asia.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, said China may already have human cases of bird flu, although the country hasn’t reported any. It said while the government has been sharing information about known outbreaks, it might not be aware of everything happening in the country.

“[The] WHO feels it is conceivable that there may be human cases, given the extent of the outbreaks in poultry,” said Dr Henk Bekedam, the agency’s Beijing representative.

The comments come after a weekend report on state television said China has “not yet discovered any cases of humans catching the disease”.

Malaysia, which has so far kept free of the disease and restricted poultry imports from affected countries, also cleared a 40-year-old pet-store owner and bird breeder of fears he caught the virus. He was quarantined on Saturday when he displayed flu symptoms.

Health authorities in Cambodia are unlikely to know if a 24-year-old woman suspected of having bird flu died from the disease because there were apparently no blood samples taken from her while she was hospitalised, said Sean Tobin, a WHO medical epidemiologist in Phnom Penh.
The woman died at a hospital in Vietnam on Friday after falling ill in Cambodia, and was cremated soon after her death.

Ten Asian governments—Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam—have battled bird flu in recent weeks and officials in the United States confirmed an outbreak in the state of Delaware on Friday.

But Pakistan, Taiwan and the US are reporting milder versions of bird flu than the H5N1 strain that has jumped to humans in Vietnam, where it has killed 14 people, and Thailand, where it has killed five and is suspected of sickening 23 others, nine of whom have died. Tens of millions of chickens have been slaughtered across the region.

Charan Trinwuthipong, Director General of Thailand’s Department of Communicable Disease Control, said the “first wave of bird flu outbreak has passed”, in an apparent reference to the country’s almost complete cull of poultry in bird-flu-affected areas.

He said the Agriculture Ministry is trying to eliminate the sources spreading the disease, “but we don’t know when the second wave will come, and we don’t trust the situation. So the public Health Ministry is being as careful as possible.”

A 27-year-old Vietnamese man, from southern Binh Phuoc province, died on Monday at Ho Chi Minh City’s Hospital of Tropical Diseases, officials said. His family had kept chickens.

Three of his family’s chickens recently died, and the man slaughtered and prepared them for a family meal. He fell ill three days afterward, said To Duc Sinh, director of the Preventive Medicine Centre in Binh Phuoc province.

Most of the bird-flu deaths in the current outbreak have been directly traced to contact with sick birds, and health officials have said they do not believe the illness can be contracted from eating properly cooked chicken meat and eggs.

Also on Monday, Vietnamese health officials reported a new infection, a 23-year-old man from the Koho ethnic minority group in central Lam Dong province. The man, who had lived near a poultry market, is hospitalised in stable condition in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam has 19 confirmed cases of people becoming infected with bird flu—14 of them have died, three remain in hospitals and two have recovered.

Although details of how bird flu spreads across regions remain unclear, the WHO has said it can be spread by migratory birds. Many birds can carry the virus without showing symptoms of the disease.

On Monday, Philippine Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said the government has banned poultry imports from the US state of Delaware after officials there confirmed an outbreak of a different strain of bird flu.

Trade Secretary Cesar Purisima said there was no danger that the virus could spread “because we don’t actually import anything out of Delaware”.

The Philippines also burned 353 imported lovebirds from The Netherlands that passed through Thailand on their way to the Philippines because of fears they could have been infected by the virus, officials said.

China on Monday reported a new suspected case in poultry in its eastern city of Tianjin, raising the number of regions with suspected or confirmed outbreaks to 14. China has 31 regions.

A weekend report on state television said China has introduced quarantine and control measures in areas affected by bird flu.—Sapa-AP

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