WHO CONFIRMS BIRD FLU OUTBREAK IN VIETNAM


2004-01-13
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10 die of flu-like symptoms, testing continues of other cases

WASHINGTON�Sample testing of 12 people infected with influenza in a hospital in the southern city of Hanoi has revealed three cases of bird flu, prompting the Vietnamese government to call for United Nations assistance, RFA reports.

"We need help from international organizations to effectively put down the bird flu outbreak," Dau Ngoc Hao, deputy director of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary department, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Hao said the ministry was in talks with the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for technical assistance to find a cure for the disease that has killed more than half a million chickens in two southern provinces of Long An and Tien Giang.

Meanwhile, World Health Organization (WHO) officials confirmed that three of 10 recent deaths in a Hanoi pediatric hospital since October had been caused by H5N1, or avian influenza, the same virus which swept through Hong Kong poultry farms in 1997.

"We have tested a number of samples from 12 people infected with influenza and three of them have tested positive for avian influenza," Dr Peter Horby, the WHO's communicable disease expert in Hanoi, was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying.

Two of the victims were children, while the third was the mother of one of them. Twelve people, mostly children, have been admitted to Hanoi's Central Pediatric Hospital since October with a high fever and a chest cough, but only two survivors remain, one of whom is in a critical condition.

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government was moving ahead with a poultry cull Monday involving the destruction of tens of thousands of chickens suspected of being infected with the virus. It has banned the sale of all dead chickens and stepped up surveillance of poultry markets.

The outbreak comes ahead of the Vietnamese Lunar New Year festival of Tet, in which chicken forms a key part of celebratory meals.

Horby said testing was continuing on the other victims to see if they had also been infected with the H5N1 virus, which has also surfaced in South Korea, and in Japan's Yamaguchi prefecture in the past month or so.

"We believe the influenza virus affecting the chickens has caused the human cases. But the positive thing is that so far we have no evidence of human-to-human transmission. That would have been very worrying," he said.

Another child also died Saturday of Type A influenza�to which the H5N1 virus belongs�at the Central Pediatric Hospital in Hanoi, but it was not clear if the victim had also tested positive for the bird flu. #####

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