Saturday, December 10, 2005

News - Thailand's Thaksin Urges Caution After Bird-Flu Death (Update1)

Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ordered health officials and citizens suffering flu- like symptoms to be more alert to the possibility of avian influenza, after the country's 14th human fatality.

Thailand's Health Ministry yesterday confirmed a five-year- old boy had died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the country's fifth confirmed human infection and second death this year, following a resurgence of the virus since October.

``The boy's relatives didn't inform the doctors that some of the chickens in their house were dead, so the doctor didn't know the risk of bird flu until the lab results came out, when it was too late to cure with medicine,'' Thaksin said in his weekly radio address today. ``We have asked all medical staff at hospitals nationwide to be more cautious of patients with flu- like symptom. We have to be more cautious to prevent any further bird flu deaths.''

More infections are likely this month, a World Health Organization official said this week, citing outbreak patterns over the past two years. The disease has spread among poultry in Vietnam, increasing the risk that avian flu will infect more people and could potentially mutate into pandemic influenza.

Thailand's Health Ministry is closely monitoring 14 of the dead boy's relatives and treating them with anti-viral drugs, though none have shown symptoms of the virus, Thaksin said. Officials have culled chickens in the village.

Cheap Drugs

Thaksin also confirmed that Thailand is capable of producing a cheaper version of oseltamivir, an antiviral drug commercially known as Tamiflu, using local ingredients and some imported from India.

``With this achievement, the cost of Tamiflu generics is only 70 baht ($1.69) a capsule, compared with 120 baht a capsule for the original drug,'' Thaksin said in today's radio broadcast.

Thailand's Government Pharmaceutical Organization is equipped to manufacture 5 million capsules of the drug, the Bangkok Post reported Dec. 8, citing director Mongkol Jivasantikarn.

Bio-equivalent testing and medical safety tests still need to be conducted on the Thai version of the drug, the newspaper reported. Roche Holding AG, which produces Tamiflu, doesn't hold a patent for the drug in Thailand.

Oseltamivir can reduce the severity and duration of illness caused by influenza. Its use as a prophylactic treatment may help control the spread of any pandemic virus, according to the World Health Organization.

Two Years

Avian flu has infected at least 135 people the past two years in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and China and killed 69 of them, Geneva-based WHO said on Dec. 7. At least 42 people have died from the disease in Vietnam and 13 in Thailand, it said.

Bird flu infected 17 people and killed 12 of those in Thailand between January and October 2004. It resurged 12 months later when a man died on Oct. 19 after slaughtering and eating a sick chicken. His son survived an infection.

Thailand, Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy, has culled more than 40 million chickens since the initial outbreak to thwart the spread of the virus.

Bloomberg.com: Asia

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