Japan, Thailand face H5N1 in birds again

Jan 16, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – Avian influenza has flared again in the poultry populations of two Asian countries that had enjoyed prolonged quiet periods—Japan and Thailand—as authorities battled spreading bird outbreaks in Vietnam.

Japan's farm ministry today confirmed the country's first H5N1 avian flu outbreak in chickens in nearly 3 years, Reuters reported. According to an outbreak report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), 3,800 birds on a farm in the Miyazaki prefecture in southwestern Japan died of the disease. Authorities are culling the remaining 8,200 birds.

No human cases or additional poultry outbreaks have been reported, Reuters said. Japan has never reported a human H5N1 case.

A prefecture official told Reuters authorities would inspect 11 chicken farms within a 6-mile radius of the affected poultry farm and take blood samples from the birds. An initial report on the findings was expected later today.

Similar checks are being conducted in other parts of the prefecture and around the nation, Reuters reported.

Yesterday Thailand confirmed its first H5N1 outbreak in 6 months, affecting ducks in the country's northern province of Phitsanulok, according to an OIE report. A farm owner notified livestock officials Jan 11 of mass duck deaths, the Bangkok Post reported today. The OIE report said the disease killed 100 ducks; 1,970 were destroyed.

Agriculture Minister Yukol Limlamthong said the latest outbreak points to problems with duck-farm management. Many farmers ignore livestock officials' warnings against free-range duck farming, which heightens the ducks' exposure to the virus.

The outbreak affected 5-month old Khaki Campbell ducks that were free to feed on nearby rice fields during the day and were housed at night. The report noted that wild birds in the area feed alongside the ducks during the day.

Authorities ordered close surveillance of a 5-km area around the infected farm and are keeping a close watch on flood-affected provinces in northern and central Thailand, the Post reported.

Lab tests are being conducted to determine if an "N1virus" detected in wild birds in Thailand's central Suphan Buri province is H5N1, Chaweewan Leowijuk, a Thai livestock official, told Thai News Agency (TNA) today.

No human infections have been reported so far, TNA reported. Another livestock official, Methee Ket-adiorn, told TNA all provinces will set up "war rooms" to assist with surveillance and rapid response.

Thailand has the world's third highest number of human H5N1 cases, 25.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam the number of Mekong Delta provinces reporting poultry outbreaks recently grew to 7, Agence France-Presse reported Jan 14. The government's television network reported that the lethal H5N1 strain killed 130 ducks in Soc Trang province and 800 ducks in Tra Vinh province.

The country has been battling dozens of outbreaks in the Mekong Delta since early December, but no human cases have been reported since November 2005.

In Indonesia, where 5 human cases have been confirmed this month, a scientist is reporting a survey suggesting that 1 in 5 stray cats is carrying the H5N1 virus, Japan's Kyodo News reported yesterday.

C.A. Nidom, a molecular biologist at the University of Airlangga, told Kyodo News he tested 500 feral cats on Java island and in Lampung province of Sumatra island from September to December 2006 and found that 100 carried the virus. He said he reported his results to the Indonesian Health Ministry, which has not published the results.

"I'm worried that the virus will be more easily transmitted to humans because the body temperature of mammals like cats is similar to that of humans," he was quoted as saying.

I Nyoman Kandun, director of disease control and environmental health at Indonesia's health ministry, told Kyodo News he had not received any information about Nidom's research. He added that there are many unproved "rumors" about avian flu.

The H5N1 virus has been detected in stray cats in Indonesia before. In October, researchers from the Indonesian Environment Information Center in Yogyakarta announced that stray cats had caught the H5N1 virus from infected poultry at live markets

Other documented instances of cats infected with the H5N1 virus include house cats in Germany, Thailand, and Austria, and a leopard and tigers at a zoo near Bangkok. However, the role of cats in transmitting the H5N1 virus is not known.

The World Health Organization said last year that no human cases have been linked to diseased cats. However, Albert Osterhaus, a virologist with the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said cat-to-human transmission was theoretically possible and that cat-to-cat transmission had been shown in a laboratory setting.

See also:

OIE report on Japanese poultry outbreak

OIE report on Thailand duck outbreak

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