Second bird flu death in Laos - 11th country to fall victim to H5N1

The death of a 15-year-old girl from Laos from the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, is the country's first officially confirmed victim of the disease.

A death of 42-year-old woman a few days ago, who is also suspected to have died from the virus, is yet to be confirmed as a bird flu fatality.

Both victims lived near the capital Vientiane but according to Laos health authorities the teenage girl was being treated in a hospital in neighbouring Thailand.

The virus was found in poultry in Vientiane in January but officials say the level of her exposure to infected poultry is still unclear.

That particular outbreak in poultry was the first in seven months in the poor, landlocked country, where the majority of it's 5.6 million inhabitants live in villages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said no link between the two cases is suspected.

Laos has increased it's surveillance and public awareness efforts and the Health minister Ponmek Dalaloy has declared that 'knowledge can save lives'.

Ponmek says the government is enforcing immediate and stringent interventions such as the culling of all infected poultry, strengthening hospital surveillance and carrying out intensive information campaigns to educate people on essential preventative measures.

According to the WHO the virus has infected at least 275 people in 12 countries since 2003 and killed at least 168 of them, mainly in Asia.

Globally, more than 160 people have died of bird flu since late 2003 mostly in Asia, with Indonesia registering more human deaths than any other country.

The virus has spread to Europe, the Middle East and Africa and in it's wake millions of birds across the world have died or been culled because of the disease.

The virus remains at present a disease of birds and is hard for people to catch; almost all cases have been the result of close contact with infected birds.

Health experts however fear that it could mutate to a form which is easily passed from human to human, triggering a pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people.

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