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Thai PM calls bird flu summit

World Health Organization (WHO)
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- -- Thailand's prime minister has called an emergency meeting on bird flu after the deaths of a woman and her daughter raised concerns the virus could be passed between people.

Eleven-year-old Sakuntala Prempasee and her mother, Pranee, died within days of each other after contracting the disease.

The government confirmed on Tuesday that bird flu killed Pranee and said Sakuntala's aunt is recovering from the disease.

The daughter was cremated before tests could be done, so officials cannot confirm she died from bird flu.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra summoned the 76 provincial governors to Bangkok along with the directors of all main state hospitals to figure out what to do next, Reuters quoted officials as saying.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam a 14-month-old boy who died earlier this month has tested positive for the virus, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier this year, the virus ravaged Asia's poultry industry and jumped to humans in Vietnam and Thailand, with the death toll now at 27. About 100 million chickens across the region were slaughtered to halt its spread.

But the people who succumbed to bird flu in that outbreak are all believed to have caught the disease from infected chickens. The latest case in Thailand is the first being investigated as a possible person-to-person transmission.

Health officials have long feared the virus may mutate, making it possible for the illness to pass from person to person, but experts have so far played down the latest developments.

"If this episode of human-to-human transmission were confirmed it does not pose a significant public health threat," said Dr. Kumara Rai of the World Health Organization.

"There is no reason to be panicked."

The woman who died may have caught the flu from her village where chickens died or from her sick daughter whom she was taking care of at the hospital for a long time, the Thai health ministry said.

"In this case, if the mother had contracted the disease from her daughter it would have been due to very close and prolonged face-to-face exposure," the ministry said.

If the latest H5N1 death is ruled to be of the human-to-human variety, the WHO said it would not be because of casual contact -- like catching a cold -- but because of the mother's close contact while caring for her sick daughter.

The woman is the second Thai confirmed to have died of the disease since it resurfaced in July.

The mother lived outside Bangkok while her daughter lived in the northern province of Kamphaenphet, where she had come in contact with chickens.

Thailand, the world's fourth-largest chicken exporter, slaughtered more than 40 million birds in its bid to eradicate the virus earlier this year. The virus killed eight people in that episode.

There have been three confirmed cases of bird flu in Thailand during the current outbreak, which surfaced in July.

In addition to the woman, an 18-year-old man has died from the disease. A 32-year-old woman has been hospitalized.

Hospitals and health officials across the country have been put on high alert to monitor any return of the disease.

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