Authorities in the city of Dawei in southeastern Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region on Thursday ordered all schools closed for five days and more than 20,000 chickens to be culled amid an outbreak of the highly contagious avian influenza.
The moves come a day after confirmation from tests on poultry carcasses confirmed that thousands of birds had succumbed to the deadly H5N1 strain of “bird flu” at farms in Dawei, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) southeast of the commercial capital Yangon.
“We closed the schools because we were concerned about the children,” said Hopin, the regional government’s social minister. “That’s why we have closed kindergartens and elementary, middle, and high schools until July 31.”
The Tanintharyi regional government also ordered the culling of more than 20,000 chickens infected with the avian flu and put farm owners and workers under observation for signs of the disease.
Chickens from six farms in the Dawei area have been infected, and authorities suspect that birds on two other farms have contracted the disease.
The virus was detected on July 16 at a poultry farm in the town’s Wekyunhtainthit ward where it killed more than 1,800 birds, according to a report by Eleven Myanmar media group.
The highly infectious flu causes severe respiratory disease in poultry that can sometimes be transmitted to humans.
Swine flu cases rise
The report of the outbreak of H5N1 in Dawei comes a day after the government said that two people in Yangon and one in northwestern Myanmar’s Chin state died from the H1N1 “swine flu” influenza, and that more than a dozen others had contracted the virus.
Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports on Thursday confirmed that the number of cases of H1N1 had risen to more than 30 people, and that two more people died from H1N1 in Sanpya hospital, Thingangkuun township, of Yangon region, bringing the total number of deaths so far to six.
A five-year-old girl from Eastern Dagon township died on Wednesday and a 34-year-old man from Dagon Seikkan township died Thursday morning, health officials said.
“We had three patients we suspect of having contracted the virus, and we have now confirmed it is H1N1,” said Aung San Min, superintendent of Sanpya Hospital.
“Two out of three have died,” he said. “The condition of the women infected with H1N1 is improving.”
Request for help
Myanmar’s health ministry on Thursday asked the Paris-based World Health Organization, the United Nations health agency, for help in fighting the H1N1 virus, fearing that the current outbreak will spread, especially in the commercial capital Yangon.
“We have requested help from the WHO,” including diagnosis equipment and medicine, said deputy director general of the public health department Than Tun Aung in a report by Agence-France Presse.
The ministry has urged the public to take precautionary measures by avoiding crowded places, washing their hands frequently, and covering their mouths.
After news of the outbreak circulated on social media, Yangon residents began wearing surgical masks to cover their noses and mouths to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
Health Minister Myint Htwe will hold a national-level meeting on the prevention and treatment of H1N1 influenza with international medical experts and local and foreign physicians at the Nursing University in Yangon on Sunday to formulate short-term and long-term plans to address the outbreak, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
H1N1, which spreads from person to person by inhaling the virus, or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, and then touching one’s mouth or nose, became a global pandemic in 2009.
Its flulike symptoms include coughing, fever, sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, and fatigue.
Myanmar has seen eight rounds of the H5N1 virus since 2006, and has reported 458 cases of the H1N1 virus since 2009, according to the country’s Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department and health and sports ministry.
By Thet Su Aung and Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.