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TheEveningStar
31-10-04, 00:54
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SAM CAGE, Associated Press Writer

GENEVA - Domestic ducks may be infecting humans with bird flu, even though they show no external signs of having the disease, the U.N. health agency warned.

Bird flu has been reported in ducks that exhibit no clinical signs of the disease, Dr. Klaus Stohr, the World Health Organization's influenza chief, said on Friday.

"In the last few months there is an increase in the number of human cases which cannot necessarily be linked to poultry exposure," Stohr said. "We don't know the infectious dose for humans, but assuming that poultry can infect humans, we must consider that apparently healthy ducks can also infect humans."

There is a high risk of transmission to humans because many villagers in affected areas in southeast Asia have ducks inside their houses, Stohr said.

"What is urgently needed now is that governments invest in research to discover just how widespread H5N1 (bird flu) is in domestic ducks," he said, adding that no human cases can be directly traced to ducks.

The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu appeared throughout Asia early this year, ravaging poultry farms and sparking a region-wide health scare. Authorities in Asia culled tens of millions of birds in an attempt to thwart the spread of the disease, but it resurfaced in July.

In Thailand, a death this week brought to 12 the number of humans killed by avian influenza in that country this year. Twenty people have died from the disease in Vietnam.

Thailand recently announced its first probable case of human-to-human transmission of bird flu. Infections could increase rapidly if the virus links up with human influenza, Stohr said.

Bird flu does not transmit easily from human to human, he said, while human influenza is highly infectious.

Stohr said there is no vaccine for bird flu.
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