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    Bird flu toll hits 20 ahead of talks


    BANGKOK - A teenage boy has died of bird flu in Thailand, taking Asia's toll to at least 20, ahead of emergency regional talks yesterday on ways to battle the rampaging virus.

    Ekaphan Pongkhan, 13, succumbed after more than two weeks in hospital, the latest victim of the virulent H5N1 virus that has now killed six Thais and 14 Vietnamese.

    "He died last night of respiratory failure," Dr Charal Trinwuthipong, chief of the Department of Disease Control, said on the weekend.

    Ekaphan and the other Thai victims - four boys aged between six and seven and a 58-year-old woman - are thought to have caught the virus from direct contact with infected poultry.

    Fears persist that the virus could combine with a human flu virus to become a deadly disease that can spread among people. Now there are concerns it may have leapt to exotic animals.

    Tests showed a clouded leopard kept in a zoo near Bangkok died of bird flu last month, but it was not yet clear whether the H5N1 virus was responsible, Environment Minister Prapat Panyachatraksa said on Friday.

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