Pathologists trained to detect pandemic diseases

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Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian pathologists are being trained to identify and respond early to dangerous pathogens so that they can better cope with the risk of emergence and spread of new pandemic diseases .

During the October 17-21 workshop in Hanoi, they will work with veterinary and pathology experts from the Smithsonian Institution, University of Illinois and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

It is the first regional training workshop for pathologists on how to identify and investigate unknown diseases, workshop sponsor USAID (US Agency for International Development) said in a statement Tuesday.

USAID Vietnam Mission Director Francis Donovan said the regional program is expected to improve regional countries' capacity to detect and tackle epidemics and pandemics and also contribute to the US government's broader Lower Mekong Initiative.

Hosted by the Hanoi University of Agriculture, the workshop was part of the USAID's Predict Project a component of the Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program launched in 2009 by USAID that seeks to" aggressively preempt or combat, at their source, newly emerging zoonotic diseases.

"Nearly 75 percent of all new, emerging or re-emerging diseases affecting humans at the beginning of the 21st century have originated in animals," a USAID statement said.

"HIV/AIDS, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H5N1 avian influenza and the pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza virus are examples of how vulnerable today's interconnected world is to the global impact of new emergent diseases."

The workshop targets enhancing national, regional and local capacities for surveillance, laboratory diagnosis and field epidemiology in both the animal- and human-health sectors.

"These efforts aim to ultimately minimize the risk of new pandemic disease threats emerging and spreading."

Last month, Vietnamese Health Ministry warned against low awareness of taking preventive measures against infectious diseases.

"Despite there being no recorded bird flu (H5N1) case on humans so far this year, indifference on the part of local residents and relevant agencies could pave the way for a recurrence of the disease," it said, warning against possible increases in dengue fever and hand-foot-mouth diseases as well.

About 3,600 ducks and 4,300 chickens in Quang Ngai Province's Binh Son District were culled in the last week of September following mass deaths among the flocks. Subsequent tests found the fowls were infected with the H5N1 virus.

Son Tinh District in Quang Ngai Province also reported culling more than 13,500 ducks and chickens since late August.

The H5N1 virus has infected 565 people since it first appeared in 2003, killing 331, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

So far, the avian flu has killed or forced the culling of more than 400 million domestic poultry heads and caused an estimated US$20 billion in economic damage across the globe before it was eliminated from most of the 63 countries infected when the disease was at its peak in 2006, according to the FAO.

After Indonesia, Vietnam has recorded the highest number of human deaths from bird flu at 59 since 2003, according to WHO data.

On October 10, doctors in Indonesia confirmed that two children had died of the disease a 10-year-old boy and his five-year-old sister who became the latest recorded deaths to the contagious disease.

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