Bird flu death toll rises

The death toll from Asia’s bird flu crisis rose to 21 on Wednesday, with confirmation that a four-year-old Thai boy had died of the virus, which has staged new outbreaks in several countries.

Thai Health Ministry spokesperson Nitaya Chanrung Mahabhol said test results showed the boy from northeastern Khon Kaen province who died earlier this month was infected with the disease.

“The boy died on February 3 and had been on the list of suspected infections,” she said, adding that the number of suspected cases had grown to 20 with the addition of a two-year-old girl hospitalised since February 12.

Another 14 people in Vietnam have died from bird flu but so far there are no confirmed human infections in the eight other Asian nations that have reported outbreaks among poultry.

However, health authorities in Indonesia have launched an investigation into whether a 55-year-old man who died in hospital on Monday had eaten chicken infected with bird flu.

As more cases broke out in Thailand, China and Japan this week, the United Nations warned Asia’s bird flu crisis was far from over and that nations should not set timelines to declare themselves free of the virus.

Japan’s plans to announce this week that its bird flu woes were over were dashed on Tuesday when it confirmed a second outbreak, just before China reported two new confirmed cases in central Hunan province.

The discovery prompted Japanese officials on Wednesday to begin inspecting farms housing about 6,8-million birds near the southwestern prefecture where bird flu was detected in bantams raised as pets.

A ban on shipment of poultry and eggs within a 30km radius of the infected site was also imposed, officials said.

Thailand had also been on the brink of declaring its crisis over and begin rebuilding its devastated $1,2-billion poultry export business before announcing on Monday that bird flu had re-emerged in poultry in nine provinces.

Thai officials have warned they expect more cases to be confirmed when the results of the latest round of testing are announced on Friday—after the close of the stock market, which has been buffeted by the unfolding crisis.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Newin Chidchob said revelations that bird flu had re-emerged in 14 zones were gleaned from 2 000 samples taken nationwide, and that the results of another 8 000 samples would bring more bad news.

Newin blamed the new outbreaks on breeders of fighting cocks, who he said fled infected regions with their valuable birds instead of slaughtering them.

But the World Health Organisation warned last week that Thailand risked triggering a second outbreak of bird flu by lifting quarantine zones too hastily.

A cull of more than 80-million chickens has so far failed to contain the outbreak, which has hit Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Laos and South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, with weaker strains in Taiwan and Pakistan.

Singapore on Wednesday began culling 5 000 chickens in a test of its defences against bird flu, and authorities in the city-state announced a high-level task force to keep the island free of the disease.

The mass cull took place on a privately owned farm in the western part of the island, using carbon dioxide to kill the birds before they were placed into bags and disposed of in an incinerator.

In Vietnam, the worst-affected nation in human terms, conservationists said its already stretched marine resources could be threatened by an unprecedented demand for seafood as people switch from eating poultry.

“This will have serious consequences for Vietnam’s sensitive coastal habitats and already overexploited marine resources,” the WWF group said in a statement.—Sapa-AFP

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