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Bird flu victim dies in Laos

HANOI (AFP) - A 42-year-old Laos woman believed to have contracted the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus died in hospital in the capital Vientiane on Sunday, the World Health Organisation said.

"The patient passed away at approximately 14:30 today," the WHO said in statement issued jointly with the Laos health ministry.

Tests had shown the woman had H5 bird flu, but the authorities were still waiting for further results to determine whether it was the H5N1 strain.

"It is very likely it is H5N1," WHO spokeswoman Dida Connor told AFP earlier in the day.

On Tuesday, Laos confirmed its first human case of the deadly strain in a 15-year-old girl from a different suburban district of Vientiane, where an outbreak of H5N1 in poultry was confirmed on February 7.

The girl is being treated in a Thai hospital.

"There is no direct link (between the two cases)," Connor added.

The 42-year-old victim was hospitalised Wednesday with severe pneumonia and investigations are continuing into how the woman caught the disease.

Her family members and hospital staff are being monitored closely, but none has yet shown any sign of infection, authorities said.

Laos first reported bird flu on its poultry in January 2004 on farms around Vientiane and in the southern Savannakhet and Champassak provinces bordering Vietnam. The country slaughtered more than 150,000 chickens.

In July 2006, bird flu recurred in Vientiane's Xaythany district but was contained with the culling of some 20,000 poultry.

Health experts have warned that the H5N1 virus could lead to a global pandemic if it mutates into a form easily transmitted between humans.

According to WHO figures, 275 human cases of avian influenza have been confirmed worldwide, with 167 deaths.