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Monitoring Tsunami-Driven Bird Flu in Thailand
January 1, 2005
Of the three tsunami affected countries with the greatest bird flu concerns, Thailand has the fewest casualties from the tsunami, but it is the only country with prior bid flu deaths.
There were flu deaths in Sri Lanka, both before and after the tsunami, but initial reports indicated it was not bird flu but was human influenza A or B. However, there were mysterious poultry deaths and now the 3 fatalities in the north are said to have "puzzled" the rebels burying the dead, so the bird flu situation in Sri Lanka remains unclear. However, the high case fatality rate, coupled with the tsunami-related displacement of people and animals in a region where the health care is over taxed is certainly cause for concern.
Indonesia has the highest tsunami-related casualty figures, but there have been no reports of unusual human flu deaths and the recent H5N1 avian flu outbreaks are south of the area most impacted by the tsunami.
Thailand has had H5N1 fatalities at the beginning of last year as well as over the summer with a case fatality rate of about 70%. Recently schools in Thung Saliem district were closed in because of H5N1 pigeons falling from the sky, and the fatality rate for the tigers at the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo were very high. Recent sequencing of an isolate from those tigers indicated that the virus had remained very stable between the beginning of last year and the summer, but there have not been new sequences of the more recent pigeon deaths.
The tsunami displaced animals and people, which could facilitate spread of H5N1, so close monitoring of residents, tourists, and relief workers would be prudent.