Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Thai bird flu again (of course)

News stories that Thailand is not really free of bird flu are not really news. Allegedly coming as a disappointment to the Thais who were set to declare themselves "bird flu free," the news is just what might be expected in a region where this disease is solidly entrenched in the poultry population.

This was not an "isolated" outbreak but found in five different locations in central Suphan Buri province (60 miles north of Bangkok) last week. Chickens and fighting cocks were affected. The thought that the end of the cool season would bring a respite has been dashed throughout southeast asia, where cases in humans and poultry continue to smolder right through the hot season.

Thailand's multibillion dollar poultry industry, politically well-connected and some say protected, has been seriously hurt by import bans on its products because of the infection. International regulations require three months free of outbreaks, so this starts the clock again for another three month run. However the thought that any country in the area could be truly bird flu free seems unrealistic at best, and any notification to international authorities should, and probably would, be greeted with skepticism.

Surveillance and detection of bird flu outbreaks in poultry is still an imporant task, but it will not stop the disease from infecting new birds and spreading outside the area. That's just the way it is.