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WHO: Global bid to beat bird flu

Indonesian workers dispose of infected chickens.
Indonesian workers dispose of infected chickens.

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A 6-year-old boy dies in Thailand, while Islamabad confirms the virus has reached Pakistan.
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Nations hit by bird flu
•S. Korea
•Taiwan (different strain)
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World Health Organization (WHO)

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- The World Health Organization has called for a united international effort -- similar to the SARS response -- to combat bird flu as the human death toll from the virus mounts.

The rapidly spreading virus has now killed at least eight people and tens of millions of chickens across nine Asian countries, and is showing little sign of slowing down.

Thailand on Tuesday confirmed its second fatality from bird flu, local television reported.

A 6-year-old boy confirmed to be infected with the virus in northern Sukhothai province died late Tuesday morning at a hospital in Phitsanulok province.

The boy had been hospitalized since mid-January, the iTV television station reported.

So far the flu has been discovered in Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and, most recently, Laos. A different strain of bird flu has been detected in Taiwan.

Humans have been infected only in Vietnam and Thailand, although officials in Cambodia said Monday that two boys who played with chickens are suspected of having come down with the virus.

"This is now spreading too quickly for anybody to ignore it," WHO spokesman Peter Cordingley said from Manila in the Philippines.

A conference starting Wednesday in Bangkok, Thailand, will try to come up with an co-ordinated global approach to the bird flu threat.

Attending the meeting will be the 10 ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) as well as China, South Korea and Hong Kong.

"We are looking to this conference for a return, if you like, to the spirit of SARS," Cordingley told CNN Tuesday.

The outbreak has been accompanied by accusations of cover-ups in Thailand and Indonesia.

Thai officials only confirmed the presence of the bird flu on Friday after days of denying accusations from farmers and opposition legislators that the nation had been hit by the dangerous disease.

Indonesia has also been under pressure to explain its actions after researchers said signs of the flu first emerged in September last year.

The researchers told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the disease has now spread across Java, Sumatra and Bali, killing more than 10 million chickens.

Indonesia only confirmed it had an outbreak on its hands on Sunday.

Agriculture Minister Bungaran Saragih told the ABC the government had received conflicting advice from scientists and was still trying to establish the strain of bird flu present in Indonesia.

"It was not covered up," he said. "There was dispute among our experts. We know it is avian influenza but what kind of sub-type, it is still in the process of finding out."

He said the Indonesian government had yet to decide whether to begin a mass cull of poultry stocks in the republic.


Bird flu has spread as far west as Pakistan.
Bird flu has spread as far west as Pakistan.

Indonesian neighbor Australia on Tuesday urged Asian nations not to hide outbreaks of bird flu and come clean about them as soon as they are discovered.

"Countries in the region must learn from the SARS experience," Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said.

Singapore, meanwhile, has banned the public from visiting poultry farms or slaughterhouses and stepped up monitoring of Malaysian imports to keep the bird flu out of the island state.

Officials in Bangkok said they were investigating whether the virus might be carried by migratory birds, a possible source for spreading the disease from farm to farm, and country to country.

The Seoul-based Korea Center for Disease control said the bird flu is likely to have entered each affected country through a different channel.

As scientists work to understand the virus, The World Health Organization says a vaccine for the disease is at least six months away because it keeps on mutating.

So far it is believed all the human victims caught the disease from fowl, and there has been no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

If the disease mutated enough to allow such transmission, health experts warn the virus could become a bigger health crisis than SARS. That virus killed nearly 800 people worldwide last year.

The WHO is also highly concerned because the bird flu virus appears resistant to cheaper anti-viral drugs used to treat regular influenza.

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