Three new human bird flu cases in Asia

By STEVE MITCHELL, UPI Senior Medical Correspondent   |   Oct. 26, 2005 at 11:49 AM

WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Thailand and Indonesia have reported three additional human cases of bird flu, including one death, raising the total number of confirmed deaths from the virus to 62.

The case in Thailand is a 7-year-old boy in the Kanchanaburi Province who is now recovering. He is the son of a 48-year-old man who died last week from infection with the bird flu strain called H5N1.

These represent the first two cases Thailand has seen in a year, and it brings the total there to 19 infected, including 13 who died.

The World Health Organization, which announced the cases, did not say if there were indications the boy contracted the disease from his father, but outbreaks of the disease were reported in poultry in Kanchanaburi villages earlier this month.

So far, 121 infected people, including 62 deaths, have been reported in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. Nearly all those infected had experienced close contact with infected poultry. Disease experts are concerned, however, that the H5N1 virus could mutate to a form that passes more readily from person to person, which could lead to a global outbreak.

The threat of this scenario appears to be increasing. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization said last week that migratory birds could soon carry bird flu to the Middle East and east Africa, where close contact with poultry is common and the capability to control the disease is lacking.

"FAO is more concerned about the situation in eastern Africa, where veterinary services, due to various constraints, should have more difficulties to run efficient bird flu campaigns based on slaughtering infected animals and vaccination," Joseph Domenech, FAO's chief veterinary officer, said in a statement.

"If the virus were to become endemic in eastern Africa, it could increase the risk of the virus to evolve through mutation or reassortment into a strain that could be transmitted to and between humans," Domenech added. "The close proximity between people and animals and insufficient surveillance and disease control capacities in eastern African countries create an ideal breeding ground for the virus."

Domenech urged other nations to assist African governments in developing surveillance and control systems.

The two new Indonesian cases included a 23-year-old man from Bogor, West Java, who died Sept. 30. The other case, a 4-year-old boy from Sumatra Island in Lampung Province, has recovered and returned home.

The two cases were related and they lived in the same neighborhood, but the WHO statement said investigations determined the boy and man were exposed to infected poultry and "human-to-human transmission is considered unlikely."

The cases raise Indonesia's total to seven human infections and four deaths.

The deadly virus has spread to domestic poultry and wild birds in several different countries in recent weeks. Croatia reported an outbreak of the disease in wild swans; Turkey and Romania detected the virus in their poultry, and the United Kingdom found two infected parrots.

Urgent steps being taken by nations around the world to prepare for a worldwide outbreak continued this week. Austria's Ministry of Health and Women conducted a simulation exercise in Burgenland Province on Tuesday, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it has formed a rapid response team to ensure anti-flu medications, such as Tamiflu, are available in the event of an outbreak.

"Making sure Americans are protected against an outbreak of Avian flu is one of FDA's top priorities," Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, acting FDA commissioner, said in a statement. "Americans can be certain that FDA has the best scientific minds working together to ensure we have enough Tamiflu and other medications and to quickly get it to doctors and patients, if ever necessary."

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