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The first--and to date the only confirmed--victim of person-to-person transmission of H5N1, better known as the Avian Flu.

Ms. Thongchan lived near Bangkok, Thailand where she worked in a factory. Her daughter Sakuntala Premphasri, 11, however, lived with Pranee's brother and sister on their small farm in the Kamphaeng Phet province. Typical of any farm, there were numerous chickens. Unfortunately, these chickens were carrying the H5N1 virus, which had afflicted birds in Asia since the initial breakout in Hong Kong in 1997.

Her sister Pranom noticed Sakuntala had fallen ill and was rapidly getting worse; taken to a clinic, she was misdiagnosed as having a bad cold. Pranom contacted her sister in Bangkok, and Pranee Thongchan raced home to care for her daughter, taking her to the hospital. Sakuntala died on September 9, 2004. She was misdiagnosed as having dengue fever, and her body was cremated.

Within days, Pranee was sick. Having had no known contact with the infected chickens, it is believed she contracted the disease directly from her daughter--specifically, from her daughter's bodily fluids. She died September 20, 2004. Ms. Thongchan was the tenth confirmed fatality from H5N1 in Thailand.

Days later, Pranom Thongchan was sick; luckily, doctors treated her with oseltamavir--"the only antiviral drug known to work against bird flu" (NPR). This prevented a further outbreak, and no one further in the village was infected. Thailand has since killed at least 40 million chickens in order to stave off further deaths.

It can't be said whether Pranom contracted the disease from her sister, her niece, or (most likely) the infected poultry.


"Fears mount over Asian bird flu." BBC News website. September 28, 2004. URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3695856.stm.

Hamilton, John. "Bird Flu Deaths in Thailand." All Things Considered. December 8, 2004. URL: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4209302

"W.H.O. 'suspects' Human-to-human Transmission Of Bird Flu In Thailand" AFP. 9/25/2004.

Pranee Thongchan was 26 years old when she died. I'm the same age. It leaves me scared.

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