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Bird flu claims eighth victim in Asia

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January 27, 2004 14:39 IST

Avian flu claimed Asia's eighth victim on Tuesday and the deadly virus continued to spread with Laos becoming the ninth country to report the infection, which has led to the slaughter of millions of chickens in the continent.

The latest victim, Thailand's second, is six-year-old Kenchai Nenjan from the northern province of Sukothai. The first human to die of the virus in Bangkok on Sunday was also a six-year-old, from the central province of Kanchanapuri. The bird flu has been detected in 13 of Thailand's 76 provinces.

After weeks of denial, the Thai government had on Friday confirmed that the disease had struck its countryside. The European Union had criticised it for 'non-transparency' in dealing with the outbreak.

According to reports, ten people in Thailand were infected while five have died. It is not yet confirmed if all the dead had been infected with the avian flu virus. Test results are awaited.

So far, nine governments have reports some strain of the bird flu - Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Laboratory tests in Laos on Tuesday confirmed that bird flu had spread to the country. The tests were conducted after hundreds of chicken died on farms, most of them in the area around the capital Vientiane.

Pakistan on Monday confirmed that the disease, which killed up to four million chickens in Karachi since November 2003, was a strain of the bird flu.

Meanwhile, an international meet has been called by Thailand on Wednesday to deal with the fast spreading flu. The European Union, United States, China and other countries hit by the virus and experts would be attending.

Millions of chicken have been slaughtered or buried alive in Asia as the infection spread. "Almost all the chicken in the affected areas have been culled," Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said.

Soldiers, volunteers and prisoners have been culling chicken in the affected farms. South Korea has killed 24 million chickens and ducks since the outbreak in December 2003.

The World Health Organisation has said a vaccine to treat the infection is still months away. The vaccine used during the outbreak of bird flu in Hong Kong in 1997 was found to be ineffective in this case.

Scientists believe that people get the disease through contact with sick birds. Although there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission so far, health officials are concerned that the disease may mutate further and link with regular influenza to create a form, which may trigger a human flu pandemic.

The city-state of Singapore, which was hard hit by the SARS virus last year, is not taking any chances and has drawn up battle plans to tackle the virus.

The Straits Times said the public has been banned, with immediate effect, from visiting any of Singapore's seven poultry farms and 14 slaughterhouses while the workers there would be given flu shots.
Jaishree Balasubramanian in Bangkok
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