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Bird flu death toll reaches 31 in Asia

The human toll from bird flu reached 31 when Thailand confirmed a 9-year-old girl died from the disease.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The human toll from bird flu reached 31 on Monday when Thailand confirmed a 9-year-old girl died from the disease, while Indonesia announced that it was among the countries still struggling with Asia’s continuing outbreaks.

In Malaysia, which escaped the first wave of the bird flu crisis early this year but reported an outbreak last month, authorities in northern Kelantan state said they were having trouble rounding up chickens for culling at farms where the birds often are allowed to roam free.

Kanda Srilueng-On, aged 9, died overnight at a hospital in Thailand’s Phetchabun province only hours after tests confirmed she had the disease, the Health Ministry said Monday. She was believed to have caught the disease from infected chickens, and had helped pluck feathers from slaughtered chickens that her family had raised.

The girl’s death brought to 11 the number of human fatalities in Thailand, which went on high alert last week after reporting its first probable case of human-to-human transmission of the disease. In Vietnam, the only other country to suffer human cases of the virus, 20 people have died.

In addition, more than 100 million chickens and poultry have been killed by the disease or been culled in efforts to curb its spread since the bird flu crisis erupted through much of Asia early this year.

Worries of person-to-person infection
It was believed to have largely subsided by April, but additional waves of the disease since July have shown that the virus was never fully stamped out. Thailand, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Indonesia are among countries that have dealt with new cases in recent months.

Indonesia initially said it was free of bird flu in March, before announcing new infections in July that prompted a massive drive to vaccinate healthy chickens.

Indonesian officials said Monday that the virus had again resurfaced in the country’s main island of Java, killing 350 chickens and prompting officials to urge further vaccinations. Tests on dead birds showed they had the dangerous H5N1 strain, livestock officials were quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying.

There were no reports of people contracting the disease in Indonesia in what appeared to be the country’s third wave of infections.

Most people who catch bird flu have had contact with sick birds.

World health officials worry that the longer it takes to contain outbreaks in poultry, the more chances the virus will have to jump to humans and mix with a human influenza virus to form a version that easily passes from person-to-person, possibly sparking the next pandemic.

However, health experts say there’s no evidence to suggest that has happened yet, even in the case of probable human-to-human transmission reported in Thailand.

The World Health Organization’s representative in Thailand said that the Thai case — in which a mother was believed to have caught bird flu from her daughter while caring for her at a hospital — was the result of close, face-to-face contact and probably represented a single, dead-end transmission, not the start of a major human outbreak.