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Thai Woman Dies of Bird Flu; Health Officials Vigilant - 2004-03-16

Officials in Thailand say they have confirmed another death from bird flu. The health ministry announcement says a 38 year old woman died from the virus last week. Word of the death came as officials in China said they were lifting quarantines on the remaining regions that have been affected by the disease. Health officials say the danger is not over.

China's Department of Agriculture spokesman, Jia Youling, says bird flu is no longer spreading in China's poultry population.

Mr. Jia said that while the bird flu has subsided in China, warmer weather in coming months could bring new outbreaks as migratory birds return north from Southeast Asia.

The World Health Organization voiced caution on Tuesday saying that farms and Agricultural experts need to remain vigilant for the possible reemergence of the deadly virus.

China reported one of the largest outbreaks of bird flu, with more than 16 provinces affected by the disease. Tens of millions of chickens have died or been culled in China and the rest of Asia to contain its spread.

Animal experts suggest the outbreak of bird flu in Asia's poultry and wild bird populations over the past few months has been unprecedented in its intensity and size. Human health experts fear bird flu could adapt and spread between people and potentially cause a deadly global influenza pandemic.

While the disease rarely spreads from chickens to humans at least 33 people contracted the bird flu in Southeast Asia in recent months. Vietnam reported at least 15 deaths, while Thailand reported an eighth human death on Tuesday.

Thai health experts confirmed that the woman who fell ill on March 1 died of the deadliest bird flu strain, the H5N1 virus, last Friday. Despite the death, Thai authorities say the country has been free of bird flu for several weeks and they are planning to resume chicken exports.

Dr. P. Somchai, An epidemiologist from the WHO's Bangkok office, says Thai officials believe the woman probably caught the disease more than a month ago.

"From the case investigation she stayed in a place, which had fighting cocks and chickens," said Dr. Somchai.

Several countries around the world including Canada and the United States have reported milder strains of the disease in poultry.

A bird flu expert in Hong Kong on Tuesday warned that it is too early to safely resume chicken imports from China or places like Japan which have reported a third wave of outbreaks in recent weeks.