Thai boy dies of bird flu after his father

Tests on an ailing 7-year-old Thai boy whose father died of bird flu have confirmed that he also has the deadly virus, Thai medical authorities said Friday. On Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that a villager in the western Thai province of Kanchanaburi had died of bird flu. Initial tests had failed to confirm the disease, but samples analyzed after the man's death on Sunday confirmed that he has the virulent H5N1 strain of the virus.

The 48-year-old man was Thailand's 13th fatality from the disease and the first in more than a year. Nineteen people in Thailand have been confirmed as being infected by bird flu since the virus swept into the country in late 2003.

Initial tests on his son, hospitalized with pneumonia-like symptoms, also failed to confirm the presence of H5N1, but new tests found the virus, said Prasit Watanapa, director of Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, where the boy is being treated.

Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of Thailand's Department of Communicable Disease Control, was optimistic about the boy's prospects.

"He will definitely survive as we have given him Oseltamivir," Thawat told The Associated Press. Oseltamivir, marketed under the name Tamiflu by its developer, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche, is considered to be the most effective anti-viral drug to treat flu infections.

Many nations are stockpiling it as worries build over the possibility of a flu pandemic. However, supplies are limited, and health officials worldwide are considering how to increase production. Thailand this week announced it would produce its own generic version of the drug by October next year

The boy and his father were both reported to have handled a neighbor's chickens in Phanom Thuan district of Kanchanaburi province that died of an unknown illness. About two weeks after preparing the birds for eating, the man was hospitalized with pneumonia-like symptoms, and his son followed him shortly after, the AP says.

Although the dead birds they handled were not tested for bird flu, other chickens in the victims' village tested positive for the virus, Dr. Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general of Thailand's Department of Communicable Disease Control, announced Thursday.

The two new human cases have emerged as Thailand is experiencing new flu outbreaks in birds in four of the country's 76 provinces.

Asia was hit by a surge of H5N1 bird flu beginning in late 2003, leading to the deaths by disease or culling of more than 100 million birds. More than 60 people have died of the disease in Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, where most of the fatalities have occurred.

Most human cases have been linked to direct physical contact with sick birds. Health officials say it is not dangerous to eat properly cooked chicken. They urge standard hygiene practices during preparation, such as thoroughly washing hands and surfaces in contact with raw meat.