BANGKOK, Thailand, September 30, 2004 (ENS) - Thai health officials are investigating the first possible human-to-human transmission of a highly virulent form of avian influenza, and countries across Asia are scrambling to prepare for another outbreak of the deadly virus. An 11 year old girl and her mother both died since early September. Officials believe the mother was infected while caring for her daughter, and that this is a probable case of human-to-human transmission.
"Such a situation would be cause for alarm, as it might signal the start of an influenza pandemic," warned the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand. Still, evidence to date indicates that transmission of the virus among humans has been limited to family members and that no wider transmission in the community has occurred.
Altogether, Thailand has reported 15 cases, of which 10 were fatal, since the first human cases were detected in January of this year. Health officials confirm that these people were infected with the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus, the same viral strain that caused 23 deaths and the slaughter of at least 100 million birds in an outbreak across Asia last winter and spring.
The avian influenza epidemic in Asia is a "crisis of global importance" and will continue to demand the attention of the international community, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) are warning. Recent outbreaks in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand show that the virus continues to circulate in the region and will not probably be eradicated in the near future, the two organizations said in a joint statement on Monday.