Suspected human case of avian flu reported in Thailand

Jul 20, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – A woman in Thailand, where avian influenza has resurfaced in the past month, may have the first human case of the illness since the outbreaks earlier in the year, a Bangkok newspaper reported today.

An online report by The Nation said a 53-year-old woman in the central province of Lop Buri was hospitalized Jul 14 with symptoms of suspected avian flu, including a heavy cough, high fever, and breathing difficulty. The woman subsequently improved and was out of danger today, the story said.

The woman, identified as Jamras Pumthongdee, was among 29 villagers who touched a dead chicken in an area affected by avian flu, the provincial chief public health officer was quoted as saying.

In outbreaks last winter and spring, H5N1 avian flu infected 34 people in Thailand and Vietnam, killing 15 Vietnamese and 8 Thais, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures. All those cases resulted from exposure to poultry, not from person-to-person transmission. But disease experts are concerned that the virus could combine with a human flu virus and acquire the ability to spread from person to person, potentially igniting a flu pandemic.

Avian flu has erupted in 13 Thai provinces and in Bangkok in recent weeks, The Nation reported. Yukol Limlaenthong, chief of the Thai government's livestock department, said about 160,000 birds have been killed in the containment effort, according to the story. A report by Agence France-Presse yesterday said the disease has cropped up in 15 provinces.

In Vietnam, small outbreaks of avian flu have occurred in nine central and southern provinces in recent weeks, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. The report said government officials and farmers met in Hanoi today to consider vaccinating poultry against the virus, but did not make a decision.

Bui Quang Anh, a Vietnamese veterinary official, said a pilot vaccination program at two farms during the earlier avian flu outbreaks did not work very well, according to the story. It said a Dutch-made vaccine called Intervet was used.

Nearly 50,000 birds have been destroyed to contain the outbreaks in Vietnam, the AP reported.

In other recent developments, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urged authorities in Asia not to kill wild birds in an effort to stop avian flu. In the Jul 16 statement, Juan Lubroth of the FAO Animal Health Service said, "Killing birds will not help to prevent or control avian influenza outbreaks. Wild birds are an important element of the ecosystem and should not be destroyed."

Although some waterfowl can carry avian flu viruses, "there is no scientific evidence that wildlife is the major factor in the resurgence of the disease in the region," Lubroth said.

The FAO said the major factors in the spread of avian flu include "poor hygienic practices" in the poultry industry and individuals' failure to follow recommended control measures.

The WHO issued a statement Jul 16 urging precautions for all workers involved in culling poultry. Workers should receive human flu vaccine and should wear protective clothing, masks, and goggles, the agency said.

In addition, health authorities should monitor anyone exposed to infected poultry, and antiviral drugs should be made available to treat anyone with a suspected case of avian flu, according to WHO.

See also:

Jul 16 FAO statement
http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2004/48287/index.html

Jul 16 WHO statement

http://www.who.int/csr/don/2004_07_16/en/

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