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Thailand Set to Declare Bird Flu Epidemic Over - 2004-03-09

Thailand, which was hit hard by the bird flu, says outbreaks there have been contained and it will declare the epidemic over next week. The Thai government is hoping to resume chicken exports soon.

Thailand's government has announced that measures to contain the bird flu outbreak have worked.

Seven people in Thailand have died from the illness, which swept though farms in January and February.

Thai officials estimate about 30 million chickens were slaughtered in an effort to stop the spread of bird flu. Unlike neighboring Vietnam, which also suffered country-wide outbreaks and 15 human deaths, Thailand was slow to admit to having the disease in its poultry farms.

The World Health Organization has urged Bangkok to ensure farms are safe before allowing the resumption of poultry breeding.

But Dr. Hans Wagner of the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization in Bangkok says Thailand had taken adequate measures against the disease.

"Thailand has undertaken the necessary steps to control the immediate outbreak," said Dr. Wagner. "We have to see in the coming days and weeks if the disease is completely controlled. … The safety of the [chicken] imports will have to be decided by the countries who are going to import from Thailand."

Dr. Wagner says Thailand has reported the end of outbreak to the World Organization for Animal Health, also known as the OIE. According to OIE regulations the breeding of new poultry stocks can resume three weeks after no new cases are found.

Dr. Wagner says there have been no new outbreaks reported in countries other than those already affected. He also says there appears to be a slowing of the disease in areas where bird flu outbreaks were reoccurring.

The disease can pose a threat to humans that come into contact with infected poultry or bird dropping. Scientists have been concerned that the disease's prevalence in farming or market areas might give it time to become a greater threat to humans. They fear the virus could combine with human influenza, enabling it to spread easily among people.

The bird flu first crossed into humans in 1997 in Hong Kong, killing six of the eighteen people it infected.