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Japan Suspends Imports of Thai Chicken Amid Bird Flu Scare - 2004-01-22


The Thai government says doctors are testing three people for a deadly bird flu virus. But authorities are still denying the disease has hit the country's large poultry industry. Japan has suspended imports of Thai chicken.

Thailand's government denied allegations that it is covering up an outbreak of the bird flu in the country, although it is testing three people for the virus.

It says thousands of chickens in poultry farms across the country are being culled because they have bird cholera and bronchitis.

But a Thai senator who is also a health expert has been telling the news media that one person has contracted the bird flu virus. He has said the government has been covering up an outbreak at poultry farms.

Thai Health Ministry spokeswoman Nitaya Mahaphol says that is not true.

"Since the first of December we have started surveillance and investigation regarding the avian flu ... we have not any case in Thailand yet and we are waiting for the final confirmation from the laboratory," she said.

In neighboring Vietnam, the H5N1 influenza virus has spread rapidly through chicken farms. At least five people there have died from the disease.

The H5N1 virus also has infected poultry in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, but they have reported no human infections.

Japan, one of Thailand's biggest buyers of chicken, said it would suspend imports due to concerns over bird flu. Thailand's chicken exports worldwide are worth more than $1 billion a year.

The World Health Organization says this flu poses a threat because it can infect humans and might learn to spread as rapidly between humans as it does among chickens.

"The more birds that fall sick, the higher the chances of human infection," said Peter Cordingly, a WHO spokesman in Manila.

Bird flu first crossed to humans in 1997 in Hong Kong. Six of the 18 people infected with the H5N1 virus then died.

Health authorities in Hong Kong test chickens regularly and order mass slaughters when the disease is found. Live chickens in the city must be vaccinated against the bird flu.