Thailand faces renewed avian flu fight

Jul 24, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – Thailand is facing its first outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in birds in 8 months, along with flu-like illnesses in a number of people in areas with sick birds, according to news services.

Thai agriculture officials said the virus was identified in a fighting cock from the northern province of Phichit, the Bangkok Post reported in a story published late today. The dead bird was from Bang Mun Nak district, where almost 300 birds were culled after the mysterious deaths of about 30 poultry 2 weeks ago, the story said.

The confirmation came shortly after poultry farmers and a senator accused the agriculture ministry of covering up the re-emergence of the disease following "massive deaths of poultry in many provinces" starting early in July, the newspaper reported.

Earlier today, the Thai newspaper The Nation said Agriculture Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan confirmed that 20 samples of dead fighting birds from Phichit had tested positive for avian flu, according to a report today by The Nation. Agence France-Press (AFP) quoted him as saying the virus was an H5 strain, but it was not yet known if it was H5N1.

Sudarat said the virus was detected in imported chickens, and he announced a ban on poultry imports, The Nation reported. To contain the outbreak, he said, officials have imposed quarantine near where the birds died and have prohibited the transport of birds.

Two other provinces, Phitsanulok and Uttaradit, also are reporting suspicious poultry deaths, The Nation said.

Meanwhile, a number of suspected human cases of avian flu have been reported. A United Press International report published 2 days ago said local news media were reporting that two sisters, aged 3 and 4, were in a Phichit hospital with suspected avian flu and that lab results were expected by July 27.

Today The Nation reported that three other patients were hospitalized in Phichit: two men, aged 59 and 86, and a 7-year-old boy. All three were reported to have had contact with dead chickens. Also, a Reuters report said an 11-year-old girl with flu-like symptoms was being treated in a Phichit hospital after chickens died on her family's farm.

In addition, a report yesterday in The Nation said two men, aged 67 and 35, were hospitalized in Uttaradit Provincial Hospital with avian flu–like symptoms that developed after they ate spotted doves. The report said blood samples were taken for testing at a nearby laboratory.

Fifteen other patients, two of them from Phichit, had been on a watch list for suspected avian influenza but were removed after tests came back negative, The Nation reported today. But the disease has not been ruled out in a 5-year-old boy from Phitsanulok, and Uttaradit province has three patients with flu-like symptoms, the story said.

Thailand has not had a confirmed human H5N1 case since last December. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country had 17 human cases with 12 deaths in 2004. Five more cases, two of them fatal, occurred in 2005.

Sudarat, the Thai agriculture minister, had said on Jul 6 that he hoped the country would be entirely free of avian flu within 3 years. At that point there had been no outbreaks in 239 days, he said.

In Indonesia, the lone survivor of the family cluster of H5N1 cases in North Sumatra left the hospital last week, according to an Associated Press report. The patient, 24-year-old Jones Ginting, had been hospitalized since May when he and seven other family members fell ill after a family gathering.

Ginting told the AP that he couldn't remember much of his battle with the illness. He said he was afraid to go to the hospital because that was where his relatives died. During his hospital stay, he said, he constantly struggled to breathe, experienced pounding pain in his head and hips, and was exhausted by 2-hour coughing fits. Later, he developed a stiff neck and headaches, and his doctors discovered that he had brain abscesses.

Ginting must return to the hospital for weekly checkups. He said he looks forward to living a healthy lifestyle, but will not avoid eating chicken. "I'm not afraid of chicken. I don't know why," he said.

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