01/16/2007, 00.00
ASIA
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Bird flu back in Thailand and Japan, found in cats in Indonesia

by Weena Kowitwanij
Virus is found on a duck farm in Phitsanulok. It might easily be transmitted from stray cats to humans. Bird flu outbreak is reported in one farm.

Phitsanulok (AsiaNews) – Concern over the H5N1 virus and the bird flu remains high in Thailand, Japan and Indonesia.

Thawat Suntracharn, director-general of Thailand’s Department of Communicable Disease Control (CDC), said that on “January 10, ducks died on a farm in Phitsanulok. After tests showed they were infected with the H5N1 virus, more than 2,000 birds were culled the next day. This is first outbreak of the year and comes 166 days after the last one.

Tests are also being carried out in every farm within a five kilometre (three miles) radius. Poultry within a ten kilometre radius cannot be moved for the next 30 days

Phitsanulok province has a humid climate and is an ideal place for the virus, which has previously been reported in the area.

At least 22 people have already shown flu symptoms but tests exclude it is of the avian kind.

Concern is growing though because of the approaching Chinese New Year (which falls on February 18 this year), when all Thais of Chinese origin are likely to eat poultry-based dishes.

The CDC is inspecting all slaughter houses to prevent outbreaks. In Phitsanulok health care workers will go house to house to check for people showing bird flu-like symptoms. Should there be other cases emerge, they should show up be within a month. 

Meanwhile in Indonesia, C.A. Nidom, head of the Avian Influenza Laboratorium at the University of Airlangga, said the virus was found in dozens of cats in various cities from Java to Sumatra.

Some 500 cats were tested and about 20 per cent were found to carry the virus. This shows that it is evolving and that there is a possibility that the virus might be able to affect humans not only through poultry but also through cats.

Cats, Nidom explained, are much closer to humans than birds, but further studies are needed before one can be sure whether they can pass on the disease or not.

Tested cats were eventually released.

Tests are currently under way for a man in Jakarta’s Persahabatan Hospital. His wife and 18-year-old son died a few days ago—they were infected with the virus.

Should it be proven that direct contagion is possible between relatives, this would confirm the theory that transmission is easier between genetically-related individuals.

For Michael Osterholm, from the University of Minnesota (US), this might be the first sign of the pandemic.

In Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture, 900 kilometres south-west of Tokyo, 12,000 chickens from one farm will be incinerated after 3,900 of them died last Saturday. But it is not clear whether the H5N1 or any other virus was involved.

Hisanori Ogura, a local health care official, said that the measure taken was only meant to prevent contagion. He added that nothing similar was reported from other farms.

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