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Thailand dispatches millions to fight bird flu

/ Source: The Associated Press

Millions of volunteers led by emergency teams fanned out across Thailand on Thursday in a new drive to fight bird flu after the prime minister gave officials 30 days to eradicate the epidemic.

In China, local officials have been put on “high alert” against bird flu and ordered to step up disinfection and surveillance of poultry after Thailand reported possible human-to-human transmission of the disease.

China’s Agriculture Ministry told officials to stockpile vaccines, warning that “the epidemic, still haunting some Asian countries, poses a risk to China,” the official China Daily newspaper reported. Officials were told to disinfect farms, slaughterhouses, markets, refrigerator warehouses and shipping, the report said.

The bird flu scare grew after Thailand reported that its latest bird flu victim likely contracting the virus from her daughter, the first probable case of human-to-human transmission in the country.

Ten people have died of bird flu in Thailand and 20 in Vietnam, while more than 100 million chickens and poultry have died or been culled to stop it since a severe strain of the virus spread across large swaths of Asia early this year.

On Thursday, Thai Agriculture Minister Somsak Thepsutin said his nation’s offensive against the disease “begins from this minute.”

Reporting every sick bird
Somsak told reporters that livestock officials are directing “millions of volunteers and officials ... to X-ray every spot nationwide, to cull the sick chickens and properly bury them.”

He said Thailand had faced setbacks in fighting bird flu, or avian influenza, blaming rural villagers for ignoring government rules that require them to inform officials when they have found dead chickens and provide complete health records when they enter hospitals.

“When a small number of chickens die, people think, ’never mind’ and keep the information to themselves,” Somsak said. “But from now on, volunteers will go into every village and report every single case to officials.”

The anti-bird flu drive began after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared a national war against the disease on Wednesday. He gave ministers until Oct. 31 to wipe out the disease or face the sack.

But Dr. Kumara Rai, the acting Thailand representative of the WHO, said “eradicating the virus in one month, I’m sorry to say, is almost impossible.”

Thai health officials on Tuesday confirmed that a 26-year-old woman, Pranee Sodchuen, died of bird flu on Sept. 20, probably after catching it while taking care of her daughter Sakuntala.

The 11-year-old, who is believed to have been ill with the disease, died Sept. 12 but was cremated before tests to confirm the disease could be conducted.

Pranee’s 32-year-old sister, who also tended to Sakuntala in the hospital, was diagnosed with bird flu Monday and is now in an isolation ward.

International health experts have said that the likely transmission of the virus from Sakuntala to Pranee appeared to be an isolated “dead-end” incident, rather than the start of a major outbreak.

Scientists fear that if the virus mutates enough to mix with the human influenza virus it could easily pass between humans and trigger a global pandemic.

China said in March that it had defeated the disease after killing 9 million chickens and other poultry in a sweeping anti-disease effort. A new outbreak was reported in July, when the government said tests showed chickens had died of the disease on a farm in the eastern province of Anhui.

The China Daily cited official concern at seasonal migrations of wild birds that might carry the virus, but said the government order didn’t give any steps to be taken with them.