Top Scoops

Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | Scoop News | Wellington Scoop | Community Scoop | Search

 

Bird Flu Moves To Human Transmission In Thailand

Thailand's Bird Flu Moves To Human Transmission


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand has declared bird flu as its ''enemy'' after the world's first ''probable'' human-to-human infection killed at least one Thai woman and perhaps infected her relatives.

International health officials dampened fears of a mutant virus evolving in Thailand. But they warned of a worst-case scenario if avian influenza's deadly H5N1 virus invades a person already ill with human influenza and the two viruses mix.

The viruses could then mutate into a never-seen-before, uncontrollable "submicroscopic parasite" capable of mass human death, similar to the 1918 Spanish influenza which killed tens of millions of people.

Health officials insist that mutation has not occurred, because Thailand's current cases involved only healthy people who contracted bird flu.

Shaken by the mounting risks, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told his government, "I have 31 days [for you] to stamp out bird flu, from October 1 to October 31.

"Bird flu is our common enemy and needs to be destroyed," the prime minister declared on Wednesday (Sept. 29).

In reality, his deadline appeared to be merely a rhetorical wake-up call and not a final solution.

"It has taken some countries seven to 10 years to end the disease," his deputy prime minister Chaturon Chaisang warned.

"For us, we are talking at least three to five years," Mr. Chaturon told a Bangkok radio station the same day.

"There are no fences along borders of countries in Asia to block migrating birds," Mr. Chaturon said.

Thailand's virus monitoring system suffers weak links including secretive officials, under-funded hospitals, defiant chicken owners, and a Buddhist tradition of cremating the dead often before detailed autopsies are performed.

Other Southeast Asian countries stricken by bird flu share the same problems, as does China, delaying containment of bird flu outbreaks there.

"Bird flu is a crisis of global importance," said He Changchui, assistant director-general of the UN's Food and Agricultural Office (FAO).

"There have been fears since the beginning of the crisis that human-to-human transmission could occur. FAO shares with WHO [World Health Organization] this concern," Mr. He said in a statement on Tuesday (Sept. 28).

"The virus continues to circulate in the region and will probably not be eradicated in the near future," Mr. He said.

The FAO official was referring to China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand, where more than 100 million chickens perished or were slaughtered this year because of bird flu, mostly during the winter.

At least 30 people died in Asia from the virus this year, including 10 people in Thailand and 20 in Vietnam.

"FAO is eager to see further evidence and information to help us to understand if, and what, may have changed in the biology or genetic makeup of the incriminated virus to give rise to this probable human-to-human transmission," Mr. He said.

In June, Thai officials congratulated themselves when the death toll stopped after eight fatalities from an initial winter outbreak.

Their cheerful boasts were overconfident and the disease infected more chickens and people in July.

Among the dead was a person who bred so-called "fighting cocks" who apparently contracted the disease from sick roosters raised to battle in bloody contests which attract rural audiences and gamblers.

Some owners of fighting cocks earlier vowed to hide their prized contenders from government culling teams because the roosters are valuable and many did not exhibit signs of illness.

An international alarm sounded earlier this week when United Nations medical officials realized bird flu virus may have been transmitted from a Thai daughter to her mother -- possibly the world's first case of human-to-human transmission.

The mother, Pranee Thongchan, visited her 11-year-old daughter, Sakuntala Prempasee, in northern Kamphaeng Phet province hospital.

Both people soon died.

The child apparently contracted bird flu from live infected chickens while staying in her aunt's village, doctors said.

When the daughter died in early September, unsuspecting Buddhist priests cremated her body without an autopsy.

Sakuntala's mother then died on Sept. 20 from a confirmed case of bird flu, leading officials to declare the world's first, "probable" human-to-human transmission.

Mrs. Pranee, 26, experienced "very close and face-to-face exposure" to her sick daughter in hospital, the Health Ministry said.

Before she died, the mother also met her elder sister, Pranom, who was later confirmed suffering from bird flu. Both women were in close physical contact with the feverish girl.

Doctors spent Thursday (Sept. 30) monitoring Pranom's illness and that of her sick, six-year-old son who apparently also caught the virus.

All four victims appeared to have contracted the same H5N1 bird flu virus, UN health officials said.

Thailand's lucrative poultry industry, which depends on massive international exports, was bracing for a downward spiral amid fears that Thais and foreigners would shun Thai chicken even if it is confirmed to be safe to eat.

"Avian influenza usually spreads when live birds carrying infection are bought and sold, and by contact of birds with bird droppings on dirty equipment, cages, feed, vehicles or shoes and clothing," the FAO said.

"Although the finding of probable human-to-human transmission is clearly of concern, there is currently no evidence of ongoing chains of transmission, or risk to persons outside of the affected province," a Health Ministry statement said.

******-ENDS-******

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Boris Johnson At Sea: Coronavirus Confusion In The UK

The tide has been turning against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Oafishly, he has managed to convert that tide into a deluge of dissatisfaction assisted by the gravitational pull of singular incompetence. Much of this is due to such errors of ... More>>

Reese Erlich: Foreign Correspondent: Rightwing Populism Will Make You Sick—Really

The four countries with the most confirmed COVID-19 infections in the world are all led by rightwing populists: the US, India, Brazil, and Russia. Throw in the United Kingdom, which has the largest infection rate in Europe, and you have a common pattern. ... More>>

Dunne Speaks: Early Voting Is OK, If You Know Who To Vote For

Early voting is now open which is great for the 80% or so of the population whose vote does not change from one election to the next. They can go out and vote at their convenience without having to wait for election day. But for those who are yet even ... More>>

The Conversation: Biodiversity: Where The World Is Making Progress – And Where It’s Not

The future of biodiversity hangs in the balance. World leaders are gathering to review international targets and make new pledges for action to stem wildlife declines. Depending on whether you are a glass half-full or half-empty person, you’re likely ... More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Trump’s Current Chances Of Re-Election

By now it seems clear that National have no fresh ideas to offer for how New Zealand could avoid the Covid-19 economic crisis. As in the past, National has set an arbitrary 30% ratio of government debt to GDP that it aims to achieve “in a decade or so,” ... More>>

The Conversation: Rogue Poll Or Not, All The Signs Point To A Tectonic Shift In New Zealand Politics

Richard Shaw AAP(various)/NZ Greens (CC-BY-SA)/The Conversation Strong team. More jobs. Better economy. So say the National Party’s campaign hoardings. Only thing is, last Sunday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll – which had support for the Labour ... More>>

The Coronavirus Republic: Three Million Infections And Rising

The United States is famed for doing things, not to scale, but off it. Size is the be-all and end-all, and the coronavirus is now doing its bit to assure that the country remains unrivalled in the charts of infection . In time, other unfortunates may well ... More>>

Binoy Kampmark: Altars Of Hypocrisy: George Floyd, Protest And Black Face

Be wary what you protest about. The modern moral constabulary are out, and they are assisted by their Silicon Valley friends in the Social Media club. Should you dare take a stand on anything, especially in a dramatic way, you will be found out ... More>>

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  • PublicAddress
  • Pundit
  • Kiwiblog