Vietnam continues to be susceptible to outbreaks of bird flu and the A/H5N1 virus remains deadly to those who contract it, an official said in Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper Friday.
Nguyen Tran Hien, chief of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, made the statement after Vietnam reported its first two bird flu fatalities this year.
The deaths came after nearly 20 months of no reported cases of humans with the A/H5N1 virus.
According to Hien, although the latest two victims were in the prime of life an 18-year-old man in the Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang and a 26-year-old woman in Soc Trang Province, also in the Mekong Delta-- that does not mean that the virus has become stronger.
He said that because the virus is specific to poultry, it is impossible to say whether a particular group of people may be immune to it. An individual's chance of contracting bird flu depends on the person's level of exposure to the virus and genetic predispositions, he added.
In fact, while many people have been exposed to the virus, only a few have become ill, the official was quoted as saying.
However, mortality rates for the virus are quite high, possibly 100 percent, so people must be extremely cautious, he stressed.
When asked why there have been no human reports of human cases in northern Vietnam since May, 2010, while the southern provinces recorded a few cases, Hien said it was because southern provinces host more poultry. Moreover, the practice of letting ducks roam freely in the fields has increased the risk of humans contracting the virus.
Hien was also quoted as saying that the scientists from his agency are still assessing the effectiveness and safety of A/H5N1 vaccines. Vaccines are expected to be used extensively in the near future.
According to a World Bank report in October last year, Vietnam was among the countries most affected by A/H5N1, with 119 human cases confirmed as of March 2011, of which 59 were fatal.
Since 2003, bird flu outbreaks have killed and led to the forced culling of tens of millions of fowl in Vietnam.
The World Health Organization has ranked Vietnam the country second most affected by bird flu after Indonesia.
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