2004Edition>News Center>World

Bird flu death toll hits 18, fowl cull widens
Updated: 2004-02-06 15:06

The human toll from bird flu rose to 18 on Friday with two more deaths in Vietnam whild China reported five more suspected cases.

The virus has ravaged poultry flocks in 10 Asian economies. China's Agriculture Ministry said said they faced a tough fight to defeat the disease as the virus may now have spread to 13 of China's 31 provinces.

Health experts say the human victims caught the flu from sick chickens and the virus is not being passed between people, but there are fears the bird flu virus could combine with a human flu virus and mutate into a new highly infectious disease.

A six-year-old girl and a 24-year-old man have died from bird flu in Vietnam's southern Ho Chi Minh City, taking the country's toll to 13, medical officials said on Friday.

Five people have also died of the disease in Thailand, making the Asian human death toll 18.

More than 14 million of Vietnam's poultry flocks of 250 million have been destroyed so far. An alarmed Hanoi has banned the transport and sale of poultry and eggs nationwide.

Vietnam's prime minister has said he wants the virus controlled within this month.

World health bodies meeting in Rome said in a joint statement on Thursday that the chance the virus could spread to other countries, "including those in distant regions, is likely to remain high" unless the right methods were used to stamp it out.


Some 50 million birds had been culled in Asia so far and poultry restocking alone will cost some US$150 million, said Louise Fresco, the Food and Agriculture Organisation's (FAO) assistant director-general.

The virus was not under control, said FAO, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the world animal health body, OIE.

The statement criticised "a lack of timely reporting" of the spread of infection.

Thailand reacted mildly to the criticism from Rome, most of which it had heard before from senior UN officials.

"We believe they meant well when they made those comments," chief government spokesman Jakrapob Penkair told a news conference.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, accused by Thai newspapers and the political opposition of covering up the outbreak, said again in an interview with Japan's NHK television due to be broadcast on Sunday his government had been slow to learn about the outbreak, Jakrapob said.

"The government was not slow to implement measures. We were slow to learn about the outbreak, but once we knew, we acted immediately," he said.

China has said parts of its animal disease prevention system were "weak and vulnerable" and the public had only limited knowledge of the disease and limited ways to prevent it.

The task of preventing and controlling the disease was an arduous one, the Chinese Agriculture Ministry said, adding that more than 1.2 million chickens had been culled.

The UN agencies said that while culling animals remained the recommended action when the disease was detected, vaccination programmes could limit the killing and the damage to the livelihoods of rural households and national economies.

Indonesia initially said it could not afford to pay compensation for slaughtered birds and preferred to vaccinate. It has now reversed course under international pressure and said it would cull 10 million poultry.

Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and China's Taiwan also are battling the disease.


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