BANGKOK—Health officials in the northern Vietnamese province of Quang Binh are rushing through tests of people showing flu-like symptoms in a village of some 190 people, where two people are thought to have died from a deadly strain of avian influenza last week.
The most recent avian flu victim in Vietnam was five-year-old Hoang Trong Duong from the village, who tested positive for the deadly H5N1 virus last week, officials told RFA's Vietnamese service.
His 13-year-old sister, who died in Quang Binh hospital on March 9, was also a suspected case, but she was immediately buried by her family, and her body was never tested.
"It is likely that she died from bird flu, but no one will ever be able to confirm it, as no tests have ever been conducted," an official from Hanoi's National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology told RFA.
The two had been in contact with sick poultry.
Meanwhile, a doctor in the area said health authorities had been placed on alert in case of an outbreak in humans, which might herald a global pandemic feared by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tests were being carried out on all residents of Kinh Chau village in Chau Hoa commune, who number 108, with total numbers of those showing flu-like symptoms on the commune at 195, he confirmed to RFA.
The avian influenza, known as H5N1, has reached epidemic proportions in birds across East Asia and killed 47 people.
But the victims are all believed to have been infected through contact with poultry, and so far no proof of human-to-human infection has been found.
"The authorities are now on alert with regard for a bird flu outbreak," local doctor Truong Dinh Dinh told RFA's Vietnamese service. "But H5N1 has not yet been confirmed; we are waiting for the test results."
"Local officials are dealing with it seriously; poultry have been culled, the place is isolated and antiseptic measures are being applied, along with carefull treatment and close observation of patients with even slight symptoms," Dinh said.
The disease prevention official said it was hard to tell, however, because many people ordinarily fell sick at this time of year with ordinary (type A) influenza, which has similar symptoms.
Local media said the outbreak hit the village just ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays which started Feb. 9. The Web-based Than Nien News said: "An interagency task-force has arrived at the commune to take immediate necessary actions to stabilize the situation and fend off the spread of the epidemic."
Those with "unusual" symptoms had been transferred to a hospital in the city of Hue for "quarantine treatment," the news service said.
While the WHO says there is no evidence that the H5N1 virus has mutated into a form that could pass easily between humans, experts say that if the virus did mutate in such a way, it could set off a pandemic that could kill millions.
They also say that prompt action by the Hong Kong authorities in 1997, who carried out a mass poultry slaughter, probably averted such a pandemic.
To date, 34 Vietnamese, 12 Thais, and one Cambodian have died of avian flu since the latest outbreak began in late 2003.
Original reporting by RFA's Vietnamese service. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.