Thai Suspected Bird Flu Case Fans Human Link Fear
BANGKOK Thailand, rattled by fears a girl passed bird flu to her mother, says it has no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the deadly H5N1 virus in the country.
The World Health Organization said there was only a "very remote possibility" that the greatest fear of experts the virus mutating, acquiring the capability to spread between people and setting off a pandemic would be realized.
Nevertheless, officials of the WHO, the Health Ministry and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention met for three hours to discuss the case and were briefed by Thai health officials just back from the area where the girl died.
Dr Kumara Rai, the acting head of the WHO in Thailand, declined to give details of the meeting, saying he did not want to "create unnecessary panic."
Such details were expected to emerge Tuesday, once senior Thai officials had been briefed on the meeting, he said.
Beforehand, Rai told Reuters the great fear of human-to-human transmission of a virus that has killed 20 Vietnamese and 9 Thais this year was still a long way from reality.
"It is still very remote," he said.
However, the Thai government said it had instituted emergency procedures in the area where the girl died and was conducting special tests on samples from her and her mother to determine what they died of.
"There is no evidence of transmission from human to human at the moment," said Dr Charal Trinvuthipong, head of the ministry's Department of Disease Control.
It would take about another week before special tests on the mother, whose body was injected with formalin to preserve it, could determine her cause of death, he told Reuters.
Tests were also being carried out on the girl, from whom samples were taken before her cremation, he said.
Aunt tests Positive
Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan told reporters the girl's aunt, with whom the 11 year old lived while her mother was away working, had contracted bird flu from diseased chickens but had recovered.
The girl, who died on September 12, helped her aunt dispose of the carcasses, she said.
"Three lab results have confirmed this patient has H5N1," Sudarat said of the aunt. "She had direct contact with the disease while disposing of chicken carcasses with her niece."
The mother spent two nights in the village visiting her ailing child, Sudarat said.
The mother died after returning to work following the cremation of her daughter, fueling suspicions the girl had passed it on to her.
"It was a preliminary suspicion," said Rai of the WHO.
All known victims of the H5N1 virus have caught it from direct contact with diseased fowl.
Health Ministry spokeswoman Nitaya Mahaphol said ministry officials had been "instructed to go on 100 percent alert."
"We are recruiting health volunteers in every village in Kamphaeng Phet to keep a close eye on people down with colds or flu," she said, referring to the province where the mother and daughter died.
"There are over 1,000 villages in Kamphaeng Phet. These private volunteers will report any suspicious case to the ministry and their samples would be sent for screening tests."