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Thailand Confirms Bird Flu Infections - 2004-01-23

Officials in Thailand have confirmed the first cases of bird flu in the country, including two human cases. Two boys in central Thailand have tested positive for the dangerous virus.

The spokeswoman for Thailand's Health Ministry, Nitaya Chanruang Mahabhol, says final test results were received Friday on three individuals.

"Two cases have been confirmed almost positive, 100 percent positive, at the moment, that they do have the H5N1, or bird flu," she said.

But Ms. Nitaya says the third case did not show any viral infection. She said that in all, 14 people have been tested for bird flu since November, all of them living in central Thailand. And she said three people are currently under observation.

Thailand's Agriculture Ministry Friday announced that the bird flu virus has also been found in chickens.

Thailand is the second country in the region to announce human infections of the H5N1 virus. Vietnam for several weeks has been battling an outbreak that has killed five people, four of them children.

Thai officials until Friday denied the presence of the avian flu in Thailand, saying they were fighting chicken cholera, a much milder disease. They deny accusations of a cover up to protect an industry that is an important source of foreign exchange.

Ms. Nitaya says the Thai Health Ministry has been watching for signs of the virus from the beginning.

"Once we learned about the avian flu in other countries in November, we started all the surveillance quite actively in early December," she explained.

The bird flu virus spreads rapidly through chicken feces and can infect humans who come into direct contact with sick birds. Scientists say the virus as yet cannot be transmitted from human to human, but they fear this could begin to happen if it were to combine with a form of human flu.

More than six million chickens have been killed in Thailand to date, devastating local chicken farmers.

Thailand is Asia's largest exporter of poultry products, and the fourth largest in the world. Japan, the largest importer of Thai chicken products, has banned Thai poultry. Farm Minister Yoshiyuki Kamei says 10 percent of Japan's poultry comes from Thailand.

Mr. Kamei says as a result, Japan will have to look to other sources of supply.

Thailand's neighbors have also banned Thai chicken and eggs.