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Bird Flu Continues to Spread in Southeast Asia - 2004-02-03

The devastating avian flu virus continues to spread across Southeast Asia. The most virulent strain of the virus has been confirmed in Indonesia, and another child suspected of having the disease has died in Thailand.

Indonesia said Tuesday the H5N1 virus has been killing chickens in parts of the country.

A four-year-old boy suspected of having the bird flu died Tuesday in Thailand. If confirmed, he would be the 13th victim of the H5N1 virus this year. All of the human cases have been in Thailand and Vietnam.

The Indonesian government says it has found no human infections.

Dr. Georg Petersen of the World Health Organization's Indonesia office says it is good that Indonesia has begun culling birds, but there still are concerns. "Our main concern is for the health of the workers involved in the culling process, since we know they are at a much higher risk than others of being infected," he says.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization began a three-day emergency meeting in Rome Tuesday to look at ways to counter the spread of the disease.

Most of the people who have caught the disease contracted it directly from infected poultry. However, scientists are investigating a case in Vietnam where human-to-human transmission may have happened.

Despite the efforts of governments across Asia, the disease is still spreading. Bird flu viruses have been found in at least 10 countries, although two governments say their birds have a milder form of the disease than the H5N1 virus.

Tens of millions of chickens and ducks have already been slaughtered to stop the spread. In addition, most countries have barred imports of both live and butchered poultry from infected countries. Some countries in Asia are inspecting travelers' luggage, and requiring those who cross borders to be disinfected.