A 17-year-old Thai has died of the H5N1 bird flu virus, the country's first death this year as it battles fresh outbreaks of the disease, a senior health official said yesterday.
The young man died Monday in the northern province of Pichit, where authorities have slaughtered hundreds of birds and restricted poultry movement in a bid to stamp out Thailand's first outbreak in eight months.
"The final lab test confirmed that he died of bird flu," Kamnuan Ungchusak, head of the Health Ministry's epidemiology bureau, said from the hospital where the youth died.
He is believed to have caught the virus while helping his father bury dead chickens last week.
The father showed no flu-like symptoms of the virus that has killed 15 Thais since it swept across parts of Asia in 2003. The last Thai victim, a five-year-old boy, died in December last year.
"We have quarantined the family, and there is no report of a new case yet," Kamnuan said.
Not including this latest death, bird flu has killed 133 people worldwide since the virus reemerged in Asia in 2003, the World Health Organization says.
At present, H5N1 remains essentially a disease of birds and is hard for people to catch.
But scientists fear the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans and trigger a pandemic in which millions could die.
The outbreak in Pichit, one of the seven high-risk Thai provinces where surveillance was stepped up this month, was confirmed by the Agriculture Ministry Tuesday, but the source of the infection was not known.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called for an "intense investigation" of the outbreak. It said Thailand had done a good job in fighting the virus so far, but it may need to fine-tune its surveillance.
"Clearly they have pushed this thing down to the level of almost non-existence, but either it's been reintroduced or it has persisted, and at such a low level it did not cause any significant blips," said Laurence Gleeson, a senior FAO official in Bangkok.
Thailand was slow to respond to bird flu when it first began ravaging poultry flocks in late 2003, badly damaging what was the world's fourth largest chicken export industry.
Livestock chief transferred
Critics accused the government of trying to cover up this latest outbreak, a charge denied by Livestock Department officials who said they had informed the public as soon as tests confirmed the presence of H5N1.
Gleeson said the FAO, which has stressed the need for rapid and transparent reporting of outbreaks, had no complaints about Thailand's reporting procedures.
Caretaker Agriculture Minister Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan yesterday ordered a transfer of Pichit Province's chief livestock officer, criticizing him of failing to report the situation of bird flu to the ministry.
Pracha Assavametha, the chief livestock officer of Pichit, was transferred to the ministry yesterday, local newspaper The Nation said.
However, Pracha said he usually reported the situation of mysterious deaths of birds and chickens to the ministry and the minister.
(China Daily July 27, 2006)