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Thailand Bird Flu Case Raises Concern

Officials say latest death probably was caused by human-to-human transmission of virus.

September 29, 2004|From Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand — Thailand on Tuesday reported its first probable case of human-to-human transmission of bird flu -- a woman who died after taking care of her ill daughter -- and health officials began tests to determine whether the virus had mutated into a form that might cause a global outbreak.

So far, they said, it appears to be an isolated incident.

The woman's death was the 29th caused by bird flu in Thailand and Vietnam this year, but the first of a person believed to have contracted it from another person, rather than poultry.

A mutated version -- a combination of bird and human flu viruses -- might spread easily from person to person.

"We have all agreed that a probable human-to-human transmission has occurred through close, direct, face-to-face and long contact," said Dr. Kumara Rai, acting World Health Organization representative in Thailand.

The development "should be viewed by the international community with concern," said Scott Dowell, director of the International Emerging Infections Program, a collaboration of Thailand's Public Health Ministry and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thai officials said tests revealed that Pranee Sodchuen, 26, had the H5N1 bird flu virus. She died Sept. 20, eight days after the death of her 11-year-old daughter, Sakuntala. The Public Health Ministry said the child was a "probable avian influenza case" who caught the virus from chickens at her home.

A bird flu outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997 killed six people and resulted in limited human-to-human transmission. Those who got the disease from other people had only minor symptoms, and there was no evidence the virus had mutated into a more dangerous form.

Initial research suggests that the latest Thai case also falls into the "dead-end-street" category, Klaus Stohr, head of WHO's global influenza program, said in Geneva.

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