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Emergency bird flu meet in Rome

Life goes on in Vietnam as a market trader takes minimum precautions against bird flu.
Life goes on in Vietnam as a market trader takes minimum precautions against bird flu.

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Nations hit by bird flu
•S. Korea
•Taiwan (different strain)
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BANGKOK, Thailand -- Health experts are gathering for an emergency meeting in Rome as deaths from the disease mount in Asia and fears rise the illness may have reached Europe.

On Monday health authorities in Germany said they were testing two women for possible bird flu infection.

One of the women fell ill after returning from Thailand, but officials say it is unlikely they have the disease. (Germans tested for bird flu)

Meanwhile Thailand's director general of communicable disease, Charal Trinwuttthipong, said 81 people with flu-like symptoms were being "examined closely."

They have yet to be moved into the suspected case category.

Bird flu has already killed 12 people in Asia. A teenage boy in Vietnam and a 58-year-old woman who raised chickens in Thailand are the latest confirmed deaths.

While the virus has spread to 10 nations, all human deaths have been in Vietnam and Thailand, and most of the infections have come from direct contact with sick birds.

However, the World Health Organization says its investigation has been inconclusive in the case of a Vietnamese family, and that human-to-human transmission could not be ruled out.

Two sisters died from bird flu in Vietnam, and the WHO said they were investigating whether they caught the respiratory illness from their brother in what could be the first instance of humans transmitting the disease in the current outbreak.

While limited transmission of the virus between humans is not considered a serious danger, experts fear the virus might mutate into a form that passes easily between people

'Far from over'

For its part, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which is hosting the Rome meeting on Tuesday, has warned that the bird flu outbreak is far from over.

"Bird flu remains a serious public and animal health threat and continues to spread," The Associated Press quoted the FAO's He Changchui as saying.

"The eruption of new infection cases in Thailand, China and Vietnam shows that the disease is far from being under control."

While FAO officials said they believe the disease is spreading within Thailand and Vietnam, the situation is less clear for China, where investigators may be picking up previously undetected cases.

China on Monday said it believed bird flu has reached poultry in one of its remotest regions, and reported five more areas with suspected cases, bringing the number of outbreaks in the nation to 11.

Dwindling chances

China now has three confirmed cases and eight suspected cases in poultry.

The WHO has urged China to take swifter action against bird flu, warning that its chances to contain the disease may be dwindling.

WHO's Beijing spokesman Roy Wadia told CNN WHO and Chinese officials must meet to develop an urgent national plan for combating the disease.

Beijing has closed poultry markets and processing factories in some bird flu-affected areas.

In addition to Vietnam, Thailand and China, the flu has been discovered in Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. A different strain of bird flu has been detected in Taiwan.

-- CNN Bangkok Bureau Chief Tom Mintier and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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