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Thailand Confirms New Bird Flu Death; Taiwan Reports Cases in Chickens

Thailand has confirmed another death linked to the avian bird flu, taking its toll to 13 since the virus hit Southeast Asia in 2003. The news comes as Taiwanese authorities confirmed the island's first case while China reported avian flu had killed poultry in Inner Mongolia.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the 48-year-old farmer from western Thailand died after eating sickened fowl. The man became Thailand's 13th confirmed death from bird flu and the first in almost a year.

Mr. Thaksin, speaking at a weekly news conference, urged people to remain calm and said authorities are aggressively stepping up monitoring for the H5N1 avian virus. Thailand has thousands of volunteer monitors to report suspected outbreaks of the avian flu.

The Thai Public Health Ministry is stockpiling the anti-viral treatment, Tamiflu, and expects to have up to 100,000 doses by February.

At least 120 people have contracted the H5N1 virus in Southeast Asia in the past two years, and more than 60 died in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia.

In China, health officials culled more than 91,000 birds around a farm in Inner Mongolia after 2600 chickens and ducks died of the H5N1 virus.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan says the situation is under control.

Mr. Kong tells reporters that the outbreak in Inner Mongolia has been eliminated and no new outbreak has been found.

Taiwanese officials reported Thursday that chickens found on a Panama-registered freighter were infected with H5N1. The chickens apparently were smuggled from China.

But authorities said all the birds were destroyed and there was little danger of the virus spreading.

Peter Cordingley, World Health Organization spokesman for Western Pacific, says that with the approaching winter in most of Asia, more bird flu cases can be expected in the coming months.

"We are moving very quickly into the cold season and everybody has to respond at maximum speed," he said. "We do expect human cases across the region this winter and we do expect large outbreaks in poultry. This will be a worse winter, we suspect, than last."

Some European countries including Romania and Russia have all reported new bird flu outbreaks. Mr. Cordingley says the virus is becoming very difficult to track.

"It's proving to be completely unpredictable," he said. "We just don't know where this virus is headed either in terms of public health risk or where it might be heading geographically."

Asia has been until recently the epicenter of the virus, which first crossed to humans in 1997 in poultry in Hong Kong and re-emerged in late 2003. Scientists fear the virus will change into a form easily transmitted from human to human, which could threaten the lives of millions as well as having a devastating impact on the global economy.