Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra told a news conference in Bangkok on Thursday that the latest human victim of the virus had slaughtered and eaten a sick bird in Kanchanaburi province, which reported new outbreaks of avian influenza this week.

 

"The guy was infected with bird flu because he took a sick chicken, slaughtered it and then ate it," Thaksin said.

 

Eating well-cooked chicken meat is not considered by health authorities to be a risk, but contact with infected chickens or ducks is a known method of transmission.

 

Bang-on Benpad was the first Thai killed by the disease in a year, and the first human fatality since an Indonesian woman died last month. The virus has killed at least 44 people in Vietnam, 13 in Thailand, six in Indonesia and four Cambodians.

 

Thawat Suntrajarn, director-general at the Department of Disease Control, said the dead man's son, who had been in close contact with chickens, had so far not tested positive.

 

Growing concern

 

All the human deaths from avian flu have so far been in Asia, but the deadly H5N1 strain was detected this month in birds in Russia, Turkey and Romania, sparking growing concern in Europe over a disease that could kill millions if it mutates.  

 

"The guy was infected with bird flu because he took a sick chicken, slaughtered it and then ate it"

Thaksin Shinawatra,
Thai prime minister

France sought to reassure consumers that poultry was safe to eat as a food industry union said chicken consumption had plunged 20% due to bird flu fears.

 

In Brussels, the European Union said more tests were needed to determine whether Greece had become the first EU country to be hit by the virus.

 

The H5N1 strain first surfaced in Hong Kong in 1997, re-emerged in 2003 in South Korea and has spread through southeast Asia, which the World Health Organisation says will be the most likely centre of any human pandemic.

 

Most human deaths have been linked to contact with sick birds, but experts say the virus could mutate at any time into a form that is more easily transmitted from person to person.