Dept hits back at bird flu cover-up charge

Dept hits back at bird flu cover-up charge

The Department of Livestock Tuesday insisted there is no bird flu outbreak in the country, countering a prominent doctor's claim to the contrary.

Over 300,000 samples collected from birds nationwide have shown they are free from the virus, said Jirasak Pipatpongsophon, deputy department chief.

"If you don't trust the department's checks, who and what will you believe?, Mr Jirasak told the media at a press conference Tuesday. "But we will not ask Dr Thirawat to provide information for us because we must respect him."

The department has challenged accusations made by respected virus expert Dr Thirawat Hemachudha, from Chulalongkorn University. Dr Thirawat last week accused the authorities of covering up an outbreak that occurred in August 2017 to protect the country's poultry export industry.

To counter Dr Thirawat's allegations, the department sent livestock officials to inspect Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo, where Dr Thirawat said the outbreak had taken place last year. The department said it tested 300,000 samples, which reportedly failed to turn up the H5N1 virus.

Mr Jirasak said the department has been vigilant in keeping track of and controlling the disease. Provinces where the virus was detected in recent years are still designated as surveillance zones. Within the zones, transport of poultry and other farm products requires proper licences and vehicles are subject to routine checks. The department also regularly sprays disinfectants in vulnerable areas.

Meanwhile, Dr Thirawat told the media that several animals at Nakhon Ratchasima Zoo had died from the H5N1 virus. He said six of 19 dead animals at the zoo last August were infected with H5N1, pushing public health officials to monitor 32 people working there.

None of those people contracted the deadly virus. Dr Thirawat said the public deserved to be warned so they could have better awareness.

"It is not important whether or not it is new or old information. But the fact is there was an outbreak of H5N1 in the province and nearby, while such information was never accepted by the department," he said.

"Poultry exports are very important to the country, but people's health is also important."

The last case of people being infected with H5N1 virus occurred in 2006. Since the initial outbreak in 2004, there were 25 bird flu cases, with 17 people dying, said Dr Atsadang Ruai-archin, deputy chief of the Department of Disease Control.

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