09/28/2004, 00.00
THAILAND
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First probable case of bird flu transmission between humans

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The first case of transmission of the H5N1 virus between humans could have taken place in Thailand, this according to Kumara Rai, acting Thailand representative for the World Health Organisation (WHO). "From the existing data, we are suspecting human-to-human transmission of bird flu," he said.

WHO headquarters in Geneva confirmed that it was examining a 'probable' case of human-to-human transmission of bird flu in Thailand. "We agree that it's a probable human-to-human case, WHO spokesperson Dick Thompson said.

The case involves Pranee Korngkaew, a 26-year-old woman who died on September 20 in a Bangkok. Thailand's Disease Control Department confirmed that the young woman had the H5N1 virus, but said that she was not known to have come into contact with suspicious birds. What is known is that this month she went to see her 12-year-old daughter who died in hospital on September 12 in the northern Kamphaengphet province. The girl, too, had bird flu-like symptoms, but no tests were done on her because she had already been cremated by the time health officials were alerted. Pranee's sister Pranom was also at the girl's bedside and is now herself hospitalised after testing positive for the bird flu.

Thai Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan said that Thailand was taking precautionary measures. Some 1,000 experts are being sent to the northern part of the country to identify people suffering from acute respiratory problems. They would receive the necessary treatment.

WHO officials in Thailand have urged Geneva headquarters to send staff to assist in the investigation. However, Mr Rai warned against any alarmism. "There is no certainty [about the transmission]," he said, "but the WHO was still very much concerned. We are awaiting the laboratory confirmation".

The WHO is concerned that the H5N1 virus might reach epidemic proportions among humans. In the last 10 months, the avian flu has killed 19 people in Vietnam and 10 in Thailand. Authorities in several Asian countries have responded by destroying over 200 million chickens.

More recently Britain's Health Protection Agency reported having developed two diagnostic tests that would detect bird flu in humans in a matter of hours. Pat Troop, HPA Chief Executive, said that it was "essential that our plans are up-to-date, and that we have the ability to diagnose the disease quickly so as to respond as effectively as possible." (MA)

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