Oct 25, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Avian influenza concerns rose on two continents today as Thai authorities announced another human death from the H5N1 strain and European officials alerted travelers about two airline flights that had carried infected eagles from Thailand to Belgium last week.
A 14-year-old Thai girl from northern Sukhothai province who died Oct 19 had H5N1 influenza, an official said in an Associated Press report today. A World Health Organization update said the girl developed symptoms on Oct 8 and that chickens at her household had died suddenly in late September.
This was the first confirmed human death from H5N1 in Thailand since a mother and daughter died in late September, in a rare instance of probable human-to-human transmission. The teen-ager's death brings to 32 the toll from H5N1 influenza in Southeast Asia since late January. A dozen nonfatal H5N1 cases have been confirmed as well.
In Belgium, two infected mountain hawk eagles were seized from a Thai man who had smuggled them into the country in his airplane carry-on bag Oct 18, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Passengers were warned about the situation today, after the eagles' infection was confirmed.
The man traveled on EVA Airways flight BR0061 from Bangkok to Vienna on Oct 17 and on Austrian Airlines Flight OS351 from Vienna to Belgium, arriving Oct 18. He had two small, live eagles wrapped in plastic tubing in his carry-on bag, news services reported.
Although the man was released, the eagles were seized and quarantined at the Brussels airport. Both eagles tested positive for H5N1 influenza yesterday and were euthanized, along with two parrots being held at the quarantine site, news services reported. The eagles' owner later turned himself in for medical examination at the request of authorities, AFP reported.
Belgium's health ministry urged all the other passengers on the man's flights to see their doctors as a precaution, Bloomberg News reported. The European Commission said the travelers should see their doctors if they experienced flu-like symptoms, according to AFP.
"Although the risk of transmission from the animals to humans is limited, it cannot be excluded since the birds traveled in the passenger cabin in hand luggage," the European Commission said, as quoted by AFP.
"The birds never left the quarantine installations at Brussels airport and did not pose any threat to the European poultry flock," the commission said.
Customs officers and scientists who encountered the ailing eagles were preventively treated with antiviral medication, Belgian news reports said. A recent report by Dutch researchers showed an antiviral medication had helped protect people exposed to H7N7 avian flu during a 2003 outbreak in the Netherlands.
A veterinarian who examined the eagles in Belgium has contracted a "light" case of conjunctivitis, according to the AFP report, attributing the information to the Belga news agency. It was not clear whether that illness was linked to the eagles. However, conjunctivitis was the most commonly reported condition among people infected with the H7N7 avian flu during the Dutch outbreak.
WHO statement about human case in Thailand