Vietnam fears stronger virus strains amid bird flu resurgence

TN News

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Health officials from Vietnam and the US visit a market notorious for smuggled birds in Hanoi last June. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

The Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu announced bird flu outbreak on a herd of more than 1,500 ducks Wednesday, fueling fears that new strains of the flu virus detected in China could hit Vietnam.

Tests on several samples of the dead ducks were positive for H5N1 virus.

Ha Van Vu, the duck owner in Hong Dan District, said he had consulted local animal health officials after members in his two-month-old flock began falling sick and dying recently.

His entire flock has been disposed of and the area was sanitized to prevent the virus from spreading.

Health authorities have been warning of bird flu pandemics ahead of the country's biggest holiday Tet, when demand for fowl increases and fuels the smuggling of birds from rural areas to cities.

Mekong Delta provinces border Cambodia, where there are currently H5N1 epidemics, and are the main suppliers of fowls to Ho Chi Minh City.

Bird flu returned to several communes in the delta's Tien Giang Province in November, killing hundreds of ducks. The disease was found earlier in farm swiftlets in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan.

According to Health Ministry regulations, a province can declare the end of bird flu epidemic if no infections are detected 21 days after the last outbreak was announced.

People can become infected with H5N1 from direct or close contact with fowl carrying the virus, with Vietnam reporting one of the highest bird flu fatalities in Southeast Asia -- 62 since 2003 --  according to the World Health Organization. The latest human fatality was reported last April, the first in over a year.

The agriculture ministry recently made a statement calling for efforts to prevent bird flu outbreaks, especially from new virus strains that seem to spread to humans easily like H7N9 and H10N8 found in China.

H7N9 has killed 47 people, or 30 percent of those infected, in China and its territories, while H10N8 was reported to be found for the first time in humans via a Chinese woman December 6, according to the a ministry statement cited in a report by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Tran Dac Phu, director of the ministry's Preventive Health Department, said new flu virus strains affecting humans have appeared in a short time, with H5N1 in 2003, followed by swine flu virus H1N1 in 2009, H7N9 early this year and now H10N8.

"That means the flu virus is going through genetic changes that make it easier to spread from animals to humans," Phu told Tuoi Tre.

He said the H7N9 infection in a person is difficult to trace as its impacts are scarcely revealed in infected fowls.

The two latest viruses have not been detected in Vietnam, but they might be soon, given the proximity and rampant fowl smuggling across the border into Hanoi and nearby provinces, he said.

Phu said wild birds could have carried the viruses here already.

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