BANGKOK (Reuters) - A 27-year-old Thai man has died of bird flu, the country's second death this year and its 16th victim since the H5N1 virus swept across parts of Asia in late 2003, a senior health official said on Saturday.
The man died on Thursday in the province of Uthai Thani, 220 km north of Bangkok, after having contact with sick chickens, Prat Boonyawongvirot, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Public Health, told Reuters.
"It is confirmed that this man has died of H5N1," Prat said.
Thailand has stepped up surveillance after a 17-year-old Thai male died in late July amid fresh outbreaks of the disease following an eight-month lull.
The 27-year-old man is believed to have caught the virus after it killed scores of chickens on his farm.
"He buried them without any protection and that's why he caught bird flu," said Thawat Suntrajarn, chief of the Department of Disease Control.
The man's wife was not sick, but was being monitored after she cooked and ate some of the dead birds, he said.
Thailand has won international praise for its war on bird flu since the virus emerged three years ago, devastating the world's fourth largest chicken export industry.
But these latest outbreaks have exposed weaknesses in Thailand's surveillance and public education campaigns, which include warnings not to handle dead birds without wearing protective gear.
Before this latest Thai death, the World Health Organization said bird flu had killed at least 134 people worldwide.
It has urged previously-hard hit nations such as Thailand and Vietnam, where the virus has not emerged in poultry in seven months, to be vigilant because H5N1 continues to circulate among poultry populations.
"Even in a country as well prepared as Thailand, it can come back and you can never rest easy," said Chadin Tephaval, a spokesman for the WHO in Thailand.