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900,000 volunteers to help monitor bird flu in Thailand
24 October 2005

A Thai doctor (r) gives masks to villagers in the Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand, where the first death from bird flu virus occurred. 
(Source: AFP)A Thai doctor (r) gives masks to villagers in the Kanchanaburi province in western Thailand, where the first death from bird flu virus occurred. (Source: AFP)
Bangkok, Thailand: Thailand has assigned 900,000 volunteers to perform house-to-house checks for signs of the deadly avian influenza virus, Health Minister Suchai Charoenratanakul said Monday.

The initiative, to be coordinated by more than 9,700 local health offices, comes as Thailand tries to combat bird flu following the country's 13th death from the virus.

The volunteer programme, which also involves bringing possibly infected subjects to nearby hospitals, is similar to a campaign launched in 2004.

Some 957 hospitals across the country have been ordered to ask possibly infected patients whether they lived in affected areas or had any contact with sick or dead chickens before they fell ill, Suchai said in a statement.

"With all these measures, we are confident we can prevent the disease becoming widespread," the minister said.

A chairman of one of Thailand's largest poultry exporters was quoted Monday as saying the government had to take strict measures to improve hygiene conditions on sub-standard chicken farms.

"Poultry farms must be separated from human residences for reasons of safety," Saha Farms company chairman Panya Chotitawan was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying. "The situation could blow up if the flu that infects chickens mutates to a deadly human flu virus."

Last week, Thailand reported its first human fatality from bird flu in a year - a 48-year-old Thai farmer who slaughtered and then ate a sick chicken. His seven-year-old son was also infected, becoming Thailand's 19th confirmed case of avian flu.

The agriculture ministry has reported 15 outbreaks in four of Thailand's 76 provinces. Two weeks ago, the virus showed up in wild sparrows outside Bangkok.

The deadly H5N1 strain of the virus has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003 and has now spread to Europe and Russia.