Recurrence of bird flu catches Vietnam off guard

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Vietnamese people and health officials became lackadaisical in their approach to bird flu during the nearly two years with no reported human cases, experts said at a meeting in Hanoi Tuesday.

According to a report on VnExpress, at the meeting experts pointed out that the country's first two victims after the reprieve received treatment very late, which led to their deaths.

In fact, the first victim, an 18-year-old man in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang, developed symptoms on January 10, but was not hospitalized until four days later, and died on January 16

Meanwhile, a 26-year-old pregnant woman in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang had a check-up at a local hospital on January 23. Although she was diagnosed with a fever and a sore throat, she was given home treatment.

Two days later she was hospitalized, but was not given Tamiflu, the antiviral drug used to treat bird flu, for an additional two days. She died on January 28.

"It is probably because after a long time of no human cases, health officials did not suspect that the symptoms were related to the H5N1 virus," said Nguyen Trong Khoa, deputy chief of Medical Services Administration under the Ministry of Health.

He also asked people to be more careful and go to hospital immediately if they have flu symptoms and have come in contact with poultry.

Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the Hanoi-based National Hospital of Tropical Diseases, also said that Tamiflu needs to be used right away whenever there is any suspicion of bird flu.

"We do not lack drugs and drugs are available. What matters is to detect the disease soon to decrease the risks of fatality," he stressed.

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Agencies should resume training sessions, reminding health officials to give patients quick diagnoses and treatment for H5N1, because after nearly two years everyone almost let their guard down, according to Kinh.

Meanwhile, Nguyen Tran Hien, chief of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, was concerned about the public's apparent ignorance.

"The problem is that due to the epidemic's long absence in humans, people misbelieve that it has gone, so they still eat the frozen blood of ducks, trade and butcher poultry," Hien said.

In the meantime, Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long warned that the A/H5N1 virus in poultry seems to have mutated since it has resisted current vaccines, so there is a chance that it will soon breakout widely again among poultry.

Since the beginning of this year, three provinces of Vietnam have reported bird flu's recurrences the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang, along with the central provinces of Thanh Hoa and Quang Tri.

Since 2003, bird flu outbreaks have killed and led to the forced culling of tens of millions of fowl in Vietnam, which was categorized among the countries most affected by H5N1.

According to a World Bank report in October last year, 119 human cases were confirmed in Vietnam as of March 2011, of which 59 were fatal.

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