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» 10/27/2005
ASIA
Suspected new cases of bird flu in humans in China and Thailand
No official confirmation has been forthcoming. International discussions over countermeasures and antiviral drugs continue. Concern is mounting over the danger that the virus might spread to Africa.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – As the international community multiplies the number of meetings to find countermeasures to the spread of the avian flu, suspected new cases of bird flu in humans appear in China and Thailand

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said that the second Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) summit, which runs November 1-3 in Bangkok, will discuss the disease threatening the region. The regional grouping includes Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.

Officials from all over the world will meet in Geneva November 7-9 to discuss setting up a global fund to tackle the deadly H5N1 avian flu virus.

Mark Wilson, director for Rural Development and Natural Resources for East Asia and Pacific Region at the World Bank, said financial compensation to poultry farmers and producers for stock losses would be a major part of donor aid to governments.

Avian flu outbreaks in South-East Asia have significantly hurt its poultry industry—running at more than US$ 10 billion since 2003.

Meanwhile, discussions about antiviral drugs between governments and industry continue. Vietnam has asked Roche Holding AG the authorisation to make Tamiflu, a vaccine for which the Swiss company holds the patent rights.

Vietnam has a population of 82 million and has no stockpiles of the vaccine.

"We're negotiating with Roche (about getting permission from the Swiss pharmaceutical producer to make a version of Tamiflu). However, if the pandemic occurs, Vietnam will apply an emergency regulation on producing Tamiflu. That means we have the rights to do it in an emergency case without the prior approval of Roche," said Cao Minh Quang, director of the Drug Management Department under the Vietnamese Health Ministry.

In Vietnam, some 44 million birds (17 per cent of the entire stock) have been slaughtered at a cost of US$ 120 million.

"One of our major concerns is now the potential spread of avian influenza through migratory birds to the Mideast and Africa in the next few weeks," Joseph Domenech, FAO's Chief Veterinary officer, warned. "The countries concerned and the international community have to make every effort to ensure that bird flu does not become endemic in Africa." If it does, "it could increase the risk of the virus evolving through mutation [. . .] into a strain that could be transmitted to and between humans," he added. 

China. A 12-year old girl has died from flu-like symptoms in Wantang, a village in Hunan province where the mainland's latest outbreak of bird flu in a week was confirmed.

A local paper reported that the girl, He Yin, and her 10-year-old brother fell ill on October 13 after eating a sick chicken that had died, according to their farmer father, He Tieguang. She died soon after reaching the Children's Hospital in the provincial capital, Changsha. Her brother is still there.

The doctors "didn't explain to me how she died," Yin's father said. They just told the family she had died from fever.

Mr He said some of the chickens the family had suddenly died more than a week ago. The family cooked one and shared it.

"We had dead chickens before and nobody has ever got sick because of that. So I thought: it's okay," he explained.

If confirmed it would the first human fatality in China since February 2003 when an eight-year-girl died on a family visit to Pingtan, in Fujian.

Kong Quan, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said the authorities had nt information about the case.

"I'm pretty sure that there are no human cases," said Chen Min, a spokesman for Xiangtan's Communist Party committee.

In the past ten days in Wantang a bird flu outbreak has killed 545 chickens and ducks and 2,487 birds have been culled

This is the mainland's third outbreak of bird flu in a week.

A UN official warned that repeated outbreaks in China suggested its surveillance systems had failed.

In the first official comment in recent days from a member of the government, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said there has been "massive culling of domestic poultry" and strict quarantines to stop the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain.

Countermeasures to fight the virus and prevent a pandemic are being taken. In Guangdong however there is mounting concern that the 180,000 hospital beds in the province might prove insufficient. In case of emergency, the authorities are planning to requisition schools and build tent hospitals.

Thailand. French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand reported that three residents of Réunion Island, a French Overseas Department in the Indian Ocean, have come down with avian flu symptoms (high fever and headaches), three days after returning from a week-end in Thailand. Thai authorities said however they had no reports of any large scale death of birds in the area visited by the tourists.

Indonesia. Following the death of several domestic fowl, local authorities are investigating possible new bird flu cases in chickens in the capital of the holiday island of Bali, Denpasar. Bali was one of the hardest-hit areas when an outbreak of avian influenza killed hundreds of birds in late 2003 and early 2004.

India. Some reports say 290 migratory birds died in an eastern Indian sanctuary, but officials said tests conducted on 111 birds there showed no sign of the H5N1virus. (PB)


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