From: Trirat Puttajanyawong, Reuters
Published October 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Bird Flu Kills 23 Thai Tigers

TAK, Thailand — The bird flu epidemic, which has killed 31 people in southeast Asia this year, killed 23 tigers at a zoo in eastern Thailand, a senior government official said on Tuesday.


"The test on the dead tigers showed they were infected with the H5N1 virus," said Charal Trinwuthipong, a special adviser to the Public Health Ministry's bird flu committee.


The tigers, aged between 8 months and 2 years, died with flulike symptoms after they had been fed raw chicken at the Sri Racha Tigers Zoo, 80 km (50 miles) east of Bangkok, Charal said.


The zoo had been closed from Tuesday because tigers started dying on Oct. 14, and about 30 of some 400 tigers in the zoo were ill, officials said.


"We believe all the sick ones might have caught bird flu given that they had been fed with the chicken meat from the same processing company," Charal said.


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"Ostriches and peacocks at the zoo are also at high risk of catching the virus. They have been kept separately," Charal said.


Five keepers had been put under surveillance after showing flulike symptoms, but the other 800 workers employed by the zoo and the processing firm had shown no signs of illness, Charal said.


A clouded leopard died in similar fashion at a Thai zoo earlier this year, and scientific studies have shown since that cats can be infected with avian flu, which means pets could spread the disease.


The underlying fear of the bird flu epidemic, which swept through much of Asia early this year, is that the H5N1 avian flu virus could get into an animal who can also host a human flu virus, most likely a pig.


That could produce a mutation that could spread through a human population with no immunity to it and lead to a pandemic like the 1918-19 Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 20 million people around the world.


However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the deaths of the tigers had no implications for humans, as tigers were not known to host the human influenza virus and thus be able to serve as a lethal mixing vessel.


"The WHO is not worried about reassortment of the virus in tigers because tigers do not have the receptor for human influenza virus," WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said in Geneva.


Source: Reuters


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