ASIA 2 more die from bird flu disease
So far, there have been no human-to-human transmissions of the virus.
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) -- Two sisters in Vietnam became the latest victims of Asia's bird flu crisis today, as ministers from across the region convened an emergency meeting with international health experts in the Thai capital.
The bird flu has raced through Asia's poultry farms and killed at least 10 people in as many countries.
Bangkok -- the site of the meeting -- was itself declared a "danger zone" after the virus was detected in a fighting cock and other fowl around the sprawling metropolis, Thai officials said.
Fending off accusations that it initially tried to cover up the emergency to protect its lucrative poultry export sector, Thailand said it would fire bureaucrats who allegedly failed to report the true extent of the disease that has now been detected in about one-third of its provinces.
Separately, the World Health Organization's regional director, Shigeru Omi, warned, "There's always potential for this kind of outbreak to result in serious global pandemic, which involves not hundreds, but could kill millions of people globally."
Across Asia, millions of chickens and ducks have been killed -- by the disease or in government-ordered culls aimed at containing it. China is the latest country to announce an outbreak.
The virus has jumped to people in Vietnam, where eight people have died, and Thailand, which has had two fatalities. Most cases have been traced to direct contact with sick birds, and many victims have been young children.
Asians are shunning chicken, a favored dish, in a disaster for the region's poultry industry and a health scare comparable to last year's global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. But the WHO says there's still time to prevent the virus from taking root in the human population.
"We have a window of opportunity to deal with this disease," said Dr. Klaus Stohr, project leader for influenza surveillance and scientific groups at the WHO.
Although there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission in the latest outbreak, health officials are concerned the virus might mix with a regular human influenza strain to create a mutant form that could trigger the next human flu pandemic.
Officials also have said there are no indications so far that bird flu is spreading to people who eat properly cleaned and cooked poultry products, but governments worldwide have slapped import bans on poultry from countries affected with bird flu.
The European Union banned imports from Thailand last week. Kuwait, Jordan and Sri Lanka banned poultry imports from several affected countries Tuesday.
Today's three-hour conference in Bangkok was expected to draw representatives from nearly a dozen governments, including China, the European Union and the United States, the Thai Foreign Ministry said.
Food and Agriculture Organization spokesman Diderik de Vleeschauwer said the U.N. agency was advising three key strategies at the meeting: rapid slaughter of inflected flocks, modernization of poultry farming and studies on how to detect outbreak earlier.
"We think there is a need for rethinking livestock development in the region," de Vleeschauwer said. "Live animal markets should be reviewed, and eventually restricted."
The WHO said it would discuss the need for financial and technical help in the slaughter of infected birds and advise countries on how they can tighten up protection measures for people involved in the culling.