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The outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus in Thailand has reached such proportions that its government required soldiers and prisoners, in an attempt to control the epidemic, to participate in the slaughter of millions of chickens. The call came as the disease appeared to be spreading across the region, and after allegations that the Thai government had covered up initial outbreaks. Six people have died in Vietnam from the virus, and Indonesia is the seventh country in the region to declare cases of infection in chickens. (Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, and Vietnam are the other six.) Thailand is the world's fourth-largest poultry exporter.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed deep concern regarding the possible implications, and has called the current simultaneous spread of the disease “historically unprecedented.” The major implication is that the virus, which normally infects only bird species and occasionally humans that come in contact with diseased birds, mutates to more efficiently transmit from one human to another. “The opportunity for the virus to reform itself into something even more aggressive and dangerous to humans has most likely never been higher,” Robert Dietz, a WHO spokesman in Hanoi, stated.