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Thailand deaths raise bird flu alarm

Officials in Thailand announced Monday that a 32-year-old woman had been hospitalized with avian influenza and that two of her family members had died of a flulike illness, raising the possibility that these might be among the first cases of human-to-human transmission.

Thai health officials cautioned that they had no laboratory confirmation that the two deaths were caused by avian influenza, popularly known as bird flu, or that the virus had developed the ability to spread from person to person.

But a team of experts from Thailand's Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization in Geneva and the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has been assembled in Bangkok to investigate what happened, and especially whether human-to-human transmission had occurred.

The 32-year-old woman is the second confirmed human case of A(H5N1) avian influenza in Thailand since the resurgence of the disease in July. She is the aunt of a girl, aged 11, who died recently.

A Thai official said the aunt and niece lived in a village where many poultry had been dying of bird flu.

The case has attracted particular attention because of the death of the 11-year-old girl's mother. The mother, who lived in Bangkok, visited her daughter in the hospital and attended her funeral but is not known to have had contact with sick chickens.