Bird Flu Claims More Victims, Regional Outbreak Feared


BANGKOK-Officials in Vietnam have begun slaughtering ducks in a bid to stop a new outbreak of the deadly bird flu virus, which has now killed 13 people in a month.

Health officials and inspectors, escorted by police, scoured farms in Ho Chi Minh City to collect ducks believed to be infected with the virus, scientifically identified as H5N1. Ducks and pigeons raised for food can carry the virus without showing symptoms.

An animal health official confirmed that the birds would be killed by burning or being buried alive. "After the killing, duck raising will not be allowed for one year," said the official from the city's Animal Health Department.

Ho Chi Minh City, on Vietnam's Mekong River Delta, has set Feb. 6 as the deadline for the slaughter of all of its estimated 210,000 ducks, half of which are raised on small outdoor farms.

Fears of regional outbreak

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have been dispatched to the southernmost Cambodian province of Kampot, which shares a well-trafficked border with Vietnam.

This announcement came as a Vietnamese doctor confirmed the death Jan. 30 in a Vietnamese hospital of a Cambodian woman, the first bird-flu victim from outside Vietnam, in this latest outbreak.

The WHO officials were sent to investigate the area from where the woman came. Relatives of the dead woman reported cooking and eating chickens that had died. They later complained of respiratory problems, prompting fears of a wider spread outbreak among poultry.

More test results were expected soon, although family members reported no symptoms.

"I have just received the test results from the Pasteur Institute and it was negative, not H5N1," said Sok Touch of the communicable disease department of the country's Health Ministry told Reuters.

Officials in the area have reported that foul have been slaughtered and the area sprayed with the disinfecting agent TH4 to prevent further spread of the virus.

Cambodia has forbidden the transport of poultry from the area.

Despite these measures, WHO officials have expressed concern that the disease might have already spread to Cambodia, Laos, and Burma, all poor countries where public health facilities and monitoring services are poor.

Low survival rates

An international conference on bird flu, a follow up to last year's conference in Bangkok, will convene in Ho Chi Minh City later this month.

Bird flu kills about 80 percent of the people it infects.

Nearly all those infected contract the virus from tainted poultry, although a pair of Thai sisters is believed to have contracted the disease from prolonged exposure to their dying mother, herself also infected.

Health experts worry the disease could mutate into a more resilient strand capable of causing a global pandemic in which millions would die.

The virus, believed to have been brought to the region by migrating wildfoul, caught international attention when a third outbreak among humans occurred in December in southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta.


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