BANGKOK, Thailand – A 48-year-old man died of bird flu in Thailand (search) after handling his neighbor's sick chickens, and Taiwan confirmed on Thursday the island nation's first case of the disease in birds smuggled in from China.
In Russia (search), emergency workers were killing domestic and wild fowl in and near a bird flu-affected village south of Moscow while the World Health Organization said China had destroyed 91,100 birds around a farm in the country's north to stop a bird flu outbreak. The birds were culled after 2,600 chickens and ducks died of the H5N1 strain of the virus in a breeding facility in a village in the Inner Mongolia region.
Amid worrying signs the deadly virus was spreading across Siberia to the Mediterranean along the pathways of migratory birds, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (search) warned Wednesday of a marked increase in chances that bird flu would move to the Middle East and Africa — and hit countries poorly equipped to deal with an outbreak.
The European Union on Wednesday announced plans for an exercise simulating a human flu pandemic to improve readiness in case the bird virus mutates to form a strain transmissible among people.
More than 60 people have died of bird flu since late 2003, all of them in Asia. Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds. But health officials warn the virus could mutate into a form that can be easily passed among humans, possibly triggering a global pandemic that could kill millions.
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said Thursday new lab results confirmed the country's 13th death from bird flu. Initially, authorities said the man had tested negative for the virus.
The dead man, Bang-on Benphat, was hospitalized with pneumonia-like symptoms on Sunday, shortly after he cooked and ate his neighbor's dead chickens. His 7-year-old son, who also had contact with the chickens, has been hospitalized in Bangkok with a fever and lung infection and is also suspected of having bird flu, said Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of the Department of Communicable Disease Control.
"The people in this area should have known better," he said. "They took sickly chickens and killed and ate them. This is extremely dangerous."
William Aldis, the World Health Organization representative in Thailand, said the latest death was not an indication the virus was becoming more common in humans or that or that a pandemic was any closer to becoming reality.
This case shows that virus is "still the same old H5N1 which can rarely affect people," Aldis said, adding that Thailand has reduced its incidence of human infections this year.
"It doesn't mean the pandemic is any closer," he said. "The virus probably isn't any different, and it doesn't mean Thailand has failed in its control efforts."
Thailand's last human bird flu fatality was on Oct. 8, 2004.
The country has begun to stockpile the antiviral Tamiflu, the main drug used to treat bird flu in humans. It has acquired 66,000 doses so far and is also starting clinical trials of its own generic version of the drug.
In Taiwan, the Agricultural Council confirmed the island's first case of bird flu. Birds taken from a Panama-registered freighter that was stopped by the Taiwanese coast guard on Oct. 14 tested positive for the H5N1 virus, the commission said.
Council spokesman Sung Hua-tsung said the freighter was carrying 1,037 smuggled birds — consisting of 19 varieties — all of which originated in China. He said a single smuggler, whom he did not identify, is being held by authorities.
Taiwan has a thriving market for exotic fowl, and bird smuggling on the island is common.
In central Russia, veterinary officials slaughtered poultry in a small village as fears grew that the bird flu that has swept through parts of Siberia could reach Moscow.
The Asian H5N1 strain of bird flu was detected in Siberia in July. Migratory birds flying over the region from elsewhere in Asia were blamed for the outbreak.
Russia's Agriculture Ministry confirmed Wednesday that the same strain had been detected in the village of Yandovka, suggesting the dreaded virus might be spreading across a swath from Siberia to the shores of the Mediterranean.
Officials put Yandovka, a village of 200 people about 200 miles south of the Russian capital, under quarantine after residents reported the mass illness and deaths of their fowl.
About a dozen police officers were posted to prevent outsiders from entering the village. An acid smell filled the air around the village, where veterinary officials in long green overcoats sprayed disinfectant on cars of villagers wanting to leave.
Simon Butrik, a 65-year-old excavator driver from a nearby village who was helping dig holes for the incinerated fowl, said most villagers were cooperating and voluntarily handing over their chickens, ducks and geese for death by lethal injection. The dead birds were put in bags and burned.
"I feel sorry for them. There is an old couple living on the other edge of the village, whose only hope was poultry. There's no work here but poultry, and the birds have been destroyed," he said.
If the latest outbreak in Russia is confirmed as the same H5N1 strain that has decimated flocks in Asia since 2003, it would mark the first appearance of the virus in European Russia, west of the Ural Mountains. The virus has also been confirmed in Turkey and Romania, and the European Union was trying to assess whether it had spread into Macedonia and Greece.