A fifth person has died from bird flu in Thailand, the health minister said in Bangkok today.
Nithikorn Chidnok, a six-year-old boy from central Kanchanaburi province, had been in hospital and was earlier suspected of having the virus, Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphun said.
It was not immediately known when the boy died or when officials received test results confirming that he had avian influenza.
The announcement brings to five the number of people who have died from the disease in Thailand and to 14 in Asia. It was announced earlier today that a teenage girl had died from the disease in Vietnam.
Health experts said the wide range of infection in the region boosted chances that the virus could mutate into a global menace for people, but said the disease was “nowhere close” to being declared a pandemic.
Most human cases have been traced directly to contact with sick birds, and although human-to-human transmission has not been ruled out in the case of one Vietnamese family, the experts say there is no sign of a new strain that can easily infect many people.
In Vietnam, the 16-year-old girl died at a disease clinic in Ho Chi Minh City, clinic deputy director Tran Tinh Hien said.
Vietnam has confirmed 10 deaths.
China said today it had no human infections, but that officials were investigating cases in poultry in 12 of its 31 regions – with the provinces of Gansu and in Xi’an added overnight to regions with suspected cases.
A new National Bird Flu Prevention Headquarters has opened in Beijing to oversee regional efforts to kill all sick birds and keep close watch on people who handled them.
“The whole of China is trying to prevent bird flu,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.
Health experts said the best policy was to destroy infected poultry while ensuring that people carrying out the culls were not exposed to the virus.
On an optimistic note, Thailand’s deputy prime minister said that officials there believed they would eradicate the virus from the country’s farms by week’s end. The virus has struck more than half of the country’s provinces.
In Bangkok, the World Health Organisation sought to dampen fears of the disease striking large numbers of people
“I think it’s very important at this stage that we remain calm about worst-case scenarios,” Mike Ryan, WHO’s chief of global epidemic response, said. “What we’re dealing with at the moment is small clusters of cases associated with exposure to poultry.”
“We have a strain of influenza with the potential to pick up human genes, and we’re nowhere close to declaring a pandemic,” Ryan told reporters. “We’re not dealing with an imminent threat to public health, but we are dealing with a potential threat.”
Asia’s bird flu crisis topped the agenda at a three-day emergency meeting at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation headquarters in Rome. Experts from 15 countries, including top veterinary officials and representatives of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, discussed strategies for tackling the outbreak.