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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Bird Flu in Asia - 2004-02-03

Broadcast: February 3, 2004

This is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

United Nations agencies are calling for money and technical help for countries in Asia to stop the spread of bird flu. The head of the U-N Food and Agriculture Organization says farmers should be paid for their losses.

Workers in ten countries have been killing millions of chickens and other birds. The World Health Organization says workers should wear eye protection to avoid the virus. They should also wear what is known as an n-ninety-five (N95) respirator mask. Health officials say another possibility is the kind of mask that doctors wear during operations.

Workers should also wear protective clothing that can be either treated to kill germs or thrown away after use. And they should wash their hands often. The W-H-O also suggests having antiviral drugs ready in case people get sick.

Thailand on Monday reported its third death from avian influenza. And a ninth person died in Vietnam. Among the deaths in Vietnam were two sisters not known to have been near infected birds. The W-H-O said "one possible explanation" was that they got the virus from their brother.

Health officials fear that bird flu could change into a form that spreads person-to-person worldwide. It could combine with human flu if someone gets both viruses. Or it may pass to humans through pigs. Yet the W-H-O says the limited number of human infections to date is a good sign.

The United States Agriculture Department had expected world chicken production to increase by six percent this year. The Foreign Agriculture Service there estimated that production would be greater than demand.

The industry in Thailand has grown quickly. Last week, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra confirmed that the virus had entered his country. He said Thailand had not done a good job at first. But he said it would move quickly to control the disease. Thailand is the fourth largest exporter of chicken.

The United States is the largest. Next are Brazil, the European Union, Thailand and China.

China last week reported its first cases of bird flu. But the British magazine New Scientist reported that the current outbreak in Asia began months ago in southern China. The report suggested that efforts to prevent the flu had caused it. China started to vaccinate chickens after the nineteen-ninety-seven outbreak in Hong Kong.

The Foreign Ministry dismissed the report. A Chinese agricultural official called it "purely a guess."

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Bob Doughty.