Avian flu claims two more lives, sparks more warnings

Feb 18, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Two more human deaths caused by H5N1 avian influenza were reported today, while United Nations health officials again warned that it will take intense efforts to contain the disease.

Officials in Thailand confirmed a fatal case of H5N1 infection in a 4-year-old boy, who died Feb 3, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported. Thailand has had nine human cases, including seven deaths.

The WHO also said Vietnam reported another fatal human case, bringing its total to 22 cases with 15 deaths. The WHO said it did not yet have details on the case, but an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report said it involved a 3-year-old boy who died early today in Lam Dong province.

WHO officials said none of the eight countries hit by H5N1 avian flu has brought it under control. "Intense efforts to control the disease in poultry must continue in some countries and be initiated in others," the agency said.

In past outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian flu, control has often taken several years, even when the disease was confined to commercial facilities in a small area, the WHO said. One way the virus can continue to travel is via water sources contaminated with droppings from wild birds, the agency noted.

But the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today cautioned that killing wild birds is not an appropriate way to control the avian flu. "Killing wild birds will not help to prevent future bird flu outbreaks," the FAO said.

Instead, poultry owners should take steps to prevent or at least monitor contact between wild birds and poultry, officials said. For example, commercial poultry farmers should try to ensure that migrating birds can't contaminate poultry pens and water supplies. If that isn't possible, farmers should treat the water.

The WHO said that hiding and smuggling of valuable birds such as fighting cocks can prolong or worsen avian flu outbreaks. In Thailand this week, agricultural officials blamed a resurgence of the disease in several provinces on breeders of fighting cocks.

The WHO also provided updates on the avian flu in several of the affected countries:

  • China has had outbreaks at 52 poultry farms, and 43 of them have been definitely attributed to H5N1. Sixteen of the country's provinces and regions have been affected; 2.3 million birds have been sacrificed.
  • South Korean authorities on Feb 7 reported new outbreaks at eight duck farms, seven chicken farms, and one mixed farm.
  • Thai officials today reported 14 new outbreaks in various provinces. More than 27 million birds have died or been destroyed.
  • In Vietnam, outbreaks have been reported in 57 of 64 provinces, and more than 27 million birds have died or been killed.

The WHO said it was still gathering information on the poultry outbreaks in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Laos.

See also:

Feb 18 WHO statement

Feb 18 FAO statement on wild birds

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