Thailand has first avian flu case in a year

Oct 20, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A 48-year-old Thai man who died yesterday had H5N1 avian influenza, marking Thailand's first human case in more than a year, according to Thai officials and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The man, who fell ill after slaughtering sick chickens, had the first case in Thailand since Oct 8, 2004, the WHO said. Thailand has had 18 confirmed cases, including 13 deaths, since the current wave of H5N1 outbreaks began in late 2003.

The man's 7-year-old son became ill with respiratory symptoms Oct 16 and is hospitalized, with test results awaited, the WHO said. The man lived in Kanchanaburi province, where several poultry outbreaks of H5N1 were reported earlier this month, the agency said.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said today that new test results had confirmed the father's case, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. Officials previously said the man had tested negative. The WHO said samples from the man will be tested further at a WHO reference laboratory.

The man, named Bang-on Benphat, got sick shortly after cooking and eating his neighbor's chickens, which had been sick, the AP story said. His son had also had contact with the chickens.

According to the AP, Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, head of the Thai Department of Communicable Disease Control, said, "The people in this area should have known better. They took sickly chickens and killed and ate them. This is extremely dangerous."

Thawat said the father and son didn't catch the virus from eating the chicken, because others who shared the food didn't get sick, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.

Despite control efforts, Thailand has contended with scattered avian flu outbreaks in poultry since early 2004. In a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) last week, Thailand said it had had 53 outbreaks in seven provinces in the preceding week.

The last human H5N1 case confirmed by the WHO was in a hospitalized 21-year-old man from Sumatra in Indonesia on Oct 10. The WHO's overall case count now stands at 118 cases with 61 deaths.

The latest case comes amid growing fear over the recent detection of H5N1 in birds in Turkey, Romania, European Russia, and possibly Greece, along with concern that the virus may spread to Africa. But a WHO representative in Thailand, William Aldis, said the Thai case doesn't signal an increase in the threat of a human flu pandemic, according to the AP report.

"It doesn't mean the pandemic is any closer," he said. "The virus probably isn't any different, and it doesn't mean Thailand has failed in its control efforts."

In other news, some smuggled birds seized from a freighter arriving in Taiwan tested positive for the H5N1 virus, according to news services. Taiwan has not yet had any H5N1 outbreaks.

A Panamanian-registered freighter that was stopped by the Taiwanese coast guard was carrying 1,037 smuggled birds from China, according to a Reuters report. Officials said 276 of the birds were dead, and when 46 of them were tested for H5N1, eight were positive, the report said.

The birds, of 19 species, were intended to be sold as pets, according to the news reports.

Elsewhere, the European Union's executive commission said a preliminary test on a sample from a Greek bird had tested negative for the H5 virus, according to an AFP report. Officials reported on Oct 17 that a turkey on a Greek island had tested positive for an H5 virus.

An EU spokeswoman said further testing is necessary and precautions remain in place, the AFP report said.

In Macedonia, officials began killing thousands of poultry after a disease outbreak last weekend killed about 1,000 birds in the village of Mogila, according to an AFP report today. The story said authorities referred to the disease as "Newcastle flu," but one official quoted in the story also mentioned an "H1" strain of avian flu. Exotic Newcastle disease is devastating to poultry but does not affect humans.

See also:

Oct 20 WHO news release
http://www.who.int/csr/don/2005_10_20a/en/

CIDRAP case count (official and unofficial numbers)
http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/cidrap/content/influenza/avianflu/case-count/avflucount.html

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