Cause for alarm?

Published: Monday 31 January 2005

Amid news of bird flu killing 20 people in Vietnam and 12 in Thailand, Japan reported its first human infection of bird flu on December 22, 2004. The Japanese health ministry said the victim caught the infection while disinfecting a contaminated poultry farm earlier this year. Blood samples of 86 suspected victims were tested. While the infection was confirmed in one case, the tests were inconclusive for four others.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (who) has issued a warning for a possible fresh outbreak in Vietnam in February, when poultry will be transported around the country for the Lunar New Year celebrations. "As avian influenza viruses become more active at cooler temperature, further poultry outbreaks, possibly accompanied by sporadic human cases, can be anticipated", it said in a statement on December 30, 2004.

Millions of birds have been culled in Asia to check the spread of the disease. There is no concrete evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus so far. But experts have warned that the virus can mutate into a version that spreads easily among humans and trigger a global pandemic.

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