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Thailand Launches New Effort to Contain Bird Flu


Thailand's Health Ministry has announced several measures aimed at preventing the spread of avian influenza.

Thai health officials say the three-part plan will strengthen the detection, treatment and containment of bird flu.

Officials Wednesday worked on improving techniques for collecting samples from infected birds and humans for testing. They also discussed standardizing the treatment for patients suspected having the H5N1 avian virus, so doctors know when to use anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu.

But a big concern is convincing the public to obey the government's stringent guidelines for containing outbreaks in poultry.

Thawat Suntrajarn, the director of Thailand's Department of Disease Control, says health workers will encourage local officials to publicly shame rule-breakers.

"We have to use measures, particularly the social measures, such as social sanctions from the community," Thawat said.

The rules include immediately alerting government officials when sick birds are found, restrictions on transporting poultry and bans on selling or consuming sick birds.

Thawat says most Thais are aware of what to do if an outbreak is suspected, but some people disregard the guidelines by hiding infected birds or giving their flocks illegal vaccinations.

"We think that the vaccination in the birds may mask the symptoms of the avian influenza," he said.

The World Health Organization has praised Thailand for its anti-bird flu efforts and the country went for seven months without reporting a human bird flu death. But the virus recently made a comeback, killing two people in the past two weeks.

The government has declared 29 of Thailand's 76 provinces bird flu disaster areas, freeing up funds to pay for the slaughter of infected flocks.

In Indonesia, officials this week reported that a teenage girl died from the H5N1 virus, pushing the country's death toll to 44 - the highest of any country.

The World Health Organization reports more than 135 deaths from H5N1 since 2003, out of about 235 confirmed infections.

The H5N1 virus has caused the deaths of tens of millions of chickens, ducks, geese and other poultry in Asia, Europe and Africa in the past three years. Almost all human victims contracted the disease from sick birds.

Health experts worry persistent outbreaks of the virus increase the likelihood that it could change to spread more easily among humans, causing a global pandemic.

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