Vietnam steps up temperature checks to fight new bird flu threat

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Visitors through Lao Cai border gate neighboring China are checked more carefully recently for fear they would carry a new bird flu virus strain. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Vietnam is monitoring the body temperature of arrivals at international airports and other border gates to prevent the invasion of the new avian virus strain that has so far killed six people in neighboring China.

Three temperature measuring machines were installed at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, one day after Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi put two such machines into operation, as authorities scrambled to tackle H7N9, previously unknown in humans.

Also on hand are local medical experts who will give special attention to people coming from or have stopped en route in China.

Around 400 people come on four flights every day from China to Tan Son Nhat airport, besides 10 flights carrying around 1,000 people that transit in Hong Kong and Taiwan before landing there.

Dr. Nguyen Hoai Nam of the Ho Chi Minh City Health Department said the city is using the same machines deployed during the previous flu epidemics, including bird flu (H5N1) and swine flu (H1N1) viruses. 

Nam said the machines will detect people with high temperature from a distance and they will be taken to examination rooms.

If they are found to carry high risks, coming from places that have experienced the latest strain of the virus or having had direct contact with sick or dead fowls, they will be quarantined and their blood samples sent to the Pasteur Institute for testing.

The Health Ministry has ordered temperature checks on people coming in to the country via roads as well, especially through border gates with China.

Two medical quarantine experts have been assigned to Lao Cai international border gate in the northern province for several days now, helping check thousands of Chinese people coming through every day for tourism and work.

The border gate office is also equipped with body temperature measuring machines and quarantine room.

Provincial authorities have also put up automatic sprayers for sterilizing vehicles coming into Vietnam with chloramine B.

Bui Thi Loc, director of Lao Cai International Medical Quarantine Center, told Tuoi Tre there's very high risk that the virus is brought into Vietnam through borders in Lao Cai as the province has a border more than 200 kilometers long with China.

Besides three official border gates including the international one, there're many other openings on roads and rivers, she said.

Quang Ninh and Lang Son provinces have also set up temperature checking machines and reinforced examinations at their border gates.

Nguyen Ngoc Luong, deputy director of Quang Ninh international medical quarantine center, said they will ask visitors to fill in a health information sheet when coming through local border gates.

Tons of old chicken have been smuggled into Vietnam from China through the border gates on road for several months now, and there is no confirmation that the activity has stopped. 

The agriculture ministry has said that the virus has not yet been reported in Vietnam. It has called on the public not to panic, but to protect themselves better by maintaining hygiene and staying away from fowls of dubious origins.

Poultry farmers have been asked to keep a close watch on their fowls. There is no vaccine against the H7N9 virus, but Dr. Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the National Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Hanoi, said the new virus can be treated with Tamiflu, just like the H5N1, a bird flu strain that has broken out earlier in Vietnam.

The Ho Chi Minh City Health Department also asked major hospitals including the Tropical Diseases Hospital and Children's Hospitals No.1 and 2 to prepare rooms and medicine in case there is an outbreak of the new virus.

Kinh said his hospital has made preparations to treat patients in case they are found to have the new strain of bird flu.

A health ministry report says the flu has been spreading fast in China since it first announced detection of the new strain on April 1. At least 18 persons aged 4 to 87 have been infect. The virus is considered highly pathogenic.

The Xinhua news agency said authorities in Shanghai on Saturday shut down three local fowl markets and issued a ban of fowl trading with other localities in the country after the H7N9 virus was found in eight chicken samples at a wholesale market in the city.

It said Chinese authorities have isolated all reported patients, although it is not known for certain yet if the virus can be transmitted between humans.

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