UN health agency investigates first report human bird flu case in Laos

27 February 2007 –

United Nations health agency officials are monitoring an area of Laos following the first human case of bird flu to be reported in the South-East Asian country, bringing to one dozen the total number of States with human infections.

The 15-year-old female patient is currently in Nongkhai public hospital in neighbouring Thailand where she remains in stable condition.

The Lao Government is providing samples of the virus to a collaborating examination centre of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which is coordinating global efforts to monitor the disease for any possible mutations into a human pandemic that in a worst case scenario could kill millions of people.

Thai, Lao and WHO officials have examined the girl’s village and those districts where poultry deaths had occurred earlier. Close contacts of the girl have been identified and are being monitored daily. The adults were given prophylaxis with oseltamivir medicine and to date all of them remain healthy.

There have so far been 275 confirmed human cases worldwide, 167 of them fatal, the vast majority in South-East Asia. UN health officials have been on constant alert to detect any mutation that could make the disease more easily transmissible in humans. Nearly all human cases so far have been traced to contact with infected birds.

The so-called Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920, which spread easily between humans, is estimated to have killed from 20 million to 40 million people worldwide.

More than 200 million birds have died from either the virus or preventive culling in the current outbreak.

In a related development, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) field workers and Afghan government veterinarian are seeking cases of unusual mortality in poultry and taking appropriate samples amid concerns over the re-introduction of the H5N1 bird flu virus into the Central Asian country due to outbreaks among poultry in neighbouring Pakistan.

Geographically limited outbreaks among poultry have been recorded in border areas but they are so far controllable given a vigorous response in terms of selective and appropriate quarantine, culling, disinfection and intensified surveillance, FAO reported.

On average 2,000 vaccinations are carried out on a daily basis in the areas surrounding infected places. It is estimated that a total of 60,000 vaccinations will be performed in the next month in Jalalabad. The Veterinary department in Jalalabad still has a stock of 140,000 vaccines available.

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