Thailand backs away from bird flu all-clear; China claims success


BANGKOK: Thailand postponed plans to declare itself free of bird flu on Tuesday and announced the disease had claimed its 23rd victim in Asia, while China said it had achieved "initial" success in stamping out the virus. Thailand’s deputy agriculture minister Newin Chidchob said there were fears that bird flu had re-emerged in 11 provinces, dashing hopes of announcing an all-clear and reviving its 1.2 billion dollar poultry exporting industry.

"We are monitoring some possible resurgence, as we have heard reports of chickens dying," Newin told AFP. "We have postponed to April but we cannot set a date. We still have to monitor the situation." Health authorities also announced Thailand’s eighth death from bird flu, saying tests had found that a 39-year-old woman who died on March 12 was infected with the disease, in the first fatality recorded in a month.

Disease Control Department chief Charal Trinvuthipong said the woman from the central province of Ayutthaya lived next door to fighting cocks which all died in mid-February. So far all the human victims of bird flu, including 15 in Vietnam, are believed to have been infected through contact with sick birds, but authorities fear a global pandemic if the virus mutates so it can spread among humans.

There was better news from China, which said it had made strides towards eradicating bird flu, even as it warned the risk of a return of the potentially lethal virus remained large.

The government lifted its two last isolation orders, one of them in Tibet, marking the apparent end of an epidemic, which erupted in late January and led to a total of 49 outbreaks nationwide.

"The epidemic started relatively late in China, but the speed with which it was eliminated was relatively fast," Jia Youling, spokesman of the agriculture ministry, told a briefing in Beijing. "I believe that success is due to the effective measures adopted by the Chinese government," he said. China culled a total of nine million chickens in the course of the bird flu epidemic and also conducted mass vaccinations, according to the ministry. As a result, no new cases had emerged for a consecutive 29 days, meaning China had scored "success for the initial stage," Jia said. No human infections were recorded during the seven-week-long epidemic.

H5N1 infections have broken out in Cambodia, Laos, China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Taiwan and Pakistan are tackling less virulent strains. (International The News)





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