Asia started this year braced for another SARS epidemic, but the real infectious disease story turned out to be avian influenza, which spread wildly among the region's poultry in January and February. At the outset, Thailand, just like China in the early days of the SARS outbreak, tried to keep a tight lid on information about avian influenza as agricultural officials and farmers fought to protect their trade interests.

But any cover-up was short-lived, according a US scientist who was on the ground during the spread of avian influenza in early 2004. "With some exceptions, Thailand had been fairly transparent," says Scott Dowell, the director of a joint operation between the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Thailand's Ministry of Public Health.

This summer, Dowell helped set up a surveillance system with Thailand's Health Ministry, and the data they've collected constitute a goldmine. For example, human flu isn't...

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