Thai bird flu cases 'very likely'
A worker sprays chemicals at a bag containing chickens during cleanup efforts at a farm in Thailand.
Thailand reassures the public poultry is safe to eat.
YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
Follow the news that matters to you. Create your own
alert to be notified on topics you're interested in.
Or, visit Popular Alerts
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Five people are being tested to see if they have bird flu, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has told reporters, according to Reuters news agency
"It is very likely that we could have bird flu here, but I haven't seen the results yet," Thaksin said Friday.
"We will know the lab results on the five suspects today."
The government had earlier said three people were being tested for the disease. But Thaksin denied accusations the nation was covering up an outbreak of bird flu and said there had been no human cases of the virus.
The war of words came after a prominent senator said a sick boy had tested positive to the bird flu and that authorities were hushing up an outbreak.
Thai farmers have been claiming for days that chicken farms were suffering from the same outbreak of bird flu that has hit the poultry industry in South Korea, Japan and Vietnam.
Thailand -- one of the world's top five chicken exporters -- has culled up to six million chickens, in a move agricultural official said was being done to prevent bird cholera and other respiratory diseases.
In Vietnam, five people have died from the flu after having direct contact with infected chickens.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed alarm over the spread of the flu that has attacked millions of chickens throughout Asia. Hong Kong said on Wednesday the H5N1 virus had been found in a dead wild bird.
The WHO has already warned the bird flu could be worse than SARS if it mutates to allow human transmission. What's more if the virus combines with a human flu strain it could lead to a contagious and deadly disease against which people have no defense.
No danger from eating chicken
Health experts believe the illness has jumped to humans through direct contact with sick birds, rather than by human-to-human contact. They also believe there is no danger from eating properly cooked meat of sick birds.
The bird flu fears prompted Japan on Thursday to temporarily suspend chicken meat imports from Thailand.
But Thailand's Commerce Minister Wattana Muangsook said he saw no long-term impact from the Japanese decision, according to Reuters.
China has already shut its trade ports to Vietnamese vessels and set up quarantine checkpoints to keep out the disease, after banning chicken imports from Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.
The WHO said it is working on a new vaccine because of "mounting concern" over the five Vietnamese deaths, and a prototype could be ready for vaccine manufacturers in a month.
Scientists are working with the flu virus obtained from two of the Vietnamese victims.
The first documented cases of bird flu affecting humans was in Hong Kong in 1997 when six people died. Over one million poultry animals were culled at that time.