Bird flu has hit flocks of fowl in three of Vietnam's north-central provinces over the last two weeks, the Department of Animal Health announced on Tuesday (September 13).
Hoang Van Nam, the department chief, said at a meeting of the National Anti-Bird Flu Committee that the bird flu virus H5N1 had been detected in the central provinces of Quang Tri and Quang Ngai, and in the northern province of Thai Binh.
He did not specify how many birds have been culled so far, but a previous report by the Animal Health Department says the bird flu outbreak had sickened around 8,000 poultry, including more than 7,000 ducks, raised by households in the three provinces, between August 18 and 30.
Local veterinary forces have culled all the sick birds in a bid to contain the disease, according to Nam.
As illegal imports of poultry are rising, the possibility of a wider bird flu outbreak is higher, Nam said.
The danger of a H5N1 outbreak in Vietnam is very high, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Diep Kinh Tan also warned.
The Animal Health Department asked localities to follow a recent government decision to increase compensation rates for culled poultry and raise bonuses for veterinary officers.
Localities should tighten control on poultry transport and trade and sterilize markets and slaughterhouses, it said.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development asked localities to assign officers to take virus samples from any spots with a high risk of a bird flu outbreak.
Since 2003, bird flu outbreaks have killed and led to the forced culling of tens of millions of fowls in Vietnam.
After Indonesia, Vietnam has recorded the highest number of human deaths from bird flu in the world, with 59 since 2003, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.
Late last month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned against a new mutant strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, or bird flu virus, in China and Vietnam.
One week later, the WHO and the FAO said in a joint statement that there is no evidence to suggest yet that this new virus strain will have any increased risk to human health.
"The last human H5N1 cases in Vietnam were reported in April 2010, but none were caused by the new strain," the statement said.
The H5N1 virus has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331 of them, according to WHO figures.
So far, H5N1 has killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic poultry and caused an estimated US$20 billion of economic damage across the globe before it was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected at its peak in 2006, according to the FAO.
According to the UN, Vietnam is considered to be endemically infected with H5N1, with disease outbreaks being detected in a number of provinces across the country in 2011.