Vietnam braces for avian flu outbreaks

Thanh Nien News

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Low awareness amongst farmers and traders puts Vietnam at risk as the country bans the import of fowl in fear of recent H7N9 outbreaks in China
A man throws a hen into a cage at a wholesale poultry market in Ha Vy Village, outside Hanoi. Live poultry markets can act as hotbeds for the H5N1 bird flu, but simple measures such as disinfecting trucks, equipment and market space could help stop the virus from spreading, according to researchers. Photo: Reuters

On February 13, Huynh Thanh Tuan from Nha Trang Town in the south-central province of Khanh Hoa died after eight days of treatment at a local hospital.
The 30-year-old man was admitted to the hospital with coughing and breathing difficulties that quickly turned into respiratory failure, doctors said.
Khanh Hoa has recorded at least seven cases of H1N1 infections in human so far this year, of which one was fatal.
Vietnamese authorities are taking urgent actions to prevent the possible spread of the fatal virus strains that causes avian influenza A, including H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9, following dozens of cases in human and outbreaks in livestock.
By February 19, the central Animal Health Department reported 24 outbreaks of avian flu H5N1, or bird flu, in 16 provinces.
More than 30,700 chicken and ducks have been culled so far this year.
Urgent actions
Relevant authorities are beefing up defenses against viruses that can spread from livestock to humans and can be fatal.
Following the recent spread of H7N9 viruses in China, the Vietnamese agriculture ministry on February 17 issued a decision, which includes a plan for emergency actions against dangerous bird flu viruses that can spread to humans, on suspending all imports of chicken and ducks and their meat into Vietnam.
On February 18, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development held a teleconference with the leaders of cities and provinces nationwide to lay out emergency guidelines to prevent the further spread of bird flu viruses.
On the same day, deputy minister Vu Van Tam led a team to work directly with local authorities in Quang Ninh and Lang Son, two provinces bordering China, on implementing preventive actions.
Fears from across the border
Authorities in provinces that share borders with China have stepped up preventive actions, including screenings and the spraying of decontaminants, to avoid the spread of avian influenza A viruses, especially H7N9, across the border.
The Animal Health Department also sent its staff to collect fowl samples from local farms and markets located near the border for testing.
The China Daily on February 15 reported that the number of human H7N9 bird flu infections was continuing to rise in China.
There have been more than 120 human H7N9 cases reported in China so far this year, and at least 32 deaths, according to a Chinese health ministry official tally as of last week that was cited by the newspaper.
“Poultry trade has been considered a primary source of human infection for the virus, as most of the diagnosed patients had close contact with poultry,” the article said.
Domestic threats
While taking preventive measures against the possible spread of H7N9 viruses from abroad, relevant authorities also warned against further outbreaks of current avian influenza A viruses in Vietnam.
Dam Xuan Thanh, deputy director of the Animal Health Department, said these viruses can spread easily due to changing weather and rising consumption after Tet (Vietnam’s Lunar New Year).
Family farming with small number of livestock also poses a threat because many farmers often skip vaccinations, he said.
Local media have repeatedly reported the low awareness of bird flu dangers among farmers and traders in both rural areas and the cities.
Early last month, many households in the Mekong Delta province of Ca Mau refused to report to local authorities after their chicken and ducks died en masse, Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper reported.
Nguyen Hong Phuong of the province’s Thoi Binh District said her 30 ducks died gradually at a rate of about 5-10 animals per day.
“Some families slaughtered dead chickens and ducks and stored them in freezer to be cooked gradually for food during Tet,” she said.
In Ho Chi Minh City, live chicken and ducks are being sold on the sidewalks of many streets and at markets, Nhan Dan (People) newspaper reported.
Nguyen Thi Be of Cu Chi District said she bought some 200-300 chickens and ducks in Dong Thap and Tien Giang provinces and hired motorbikes to carry them to the city to avoid animal health inspectors.
She often retails chicken on the roadside near her house and also sells to other traders in the area.
Le Hoang The said he has been selling live chicken and ducks along Road 10 in HCMC’s Binh Chanh District for five years.
“So far, I have not seen anyone who has bird flu [after buying and eating his fowls],” he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that travelers to countries with known outbreaks of avian influenza should avoid poultry farms, or contact with animals in live bird markets, or entering areas where poultry may be slaughtered, or contact with any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals.

WHO does not advise special screening at points of entry with regard to this event, nor does it currently recommend any travel or trade restrictions.

As always, a diagnosis of infection with an avian influenza virus should be considered in individuals who develop severe acute respiratory symptoms while traveling or soon after returning from an area where avian influenza is a concern.

WHO encourages countries to continue strengthening influenza surveillance, including surveillance for severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and to carefully review any unusual patterns to ensure reporting of human infections, and continue national health preparedness actions.

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