Vietnam officials urge caution as China's bird flu goes south

TN News

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Vietnam health and agriculture officials held an urgent meeting Monday as the new bird flu virus strain H7N9 is pressing on Vietnam's border after killing nearly 60 in China.

The virus, which was detected for the first time in China in March last year, has killed 14 Chinese since the beginning of this year, including those in the southern region and close to Vietnam.

Tran Dac Phu, head of the Preventive Health Department at the Health Ministry, warned about the easy spread of the virus as there were patients in Taiwan, Hong Kong and one in Canada who had visited the mainland.

"Vietnam is yet to report a case. But there's a lot of traveling and trading between the country at the border and the intrusion can happen any time," Phu said, according to news website VnExpress.

The smuggling of ducks and chickens across the border has been increasing as the Lunar New Year festival comes in two weeks,  officials said.

The Health Ministry has ordered tight surveillance of passengers, vehicles and cargo crossing the border. It has also instructed that all cases of severe pneumonia be put under supervision.

Officials said the H7N9 virus, which has killed more than 30 percent of its patients so far, is hard to detect because it does not manifest itself in the birds that carry it, unlike the H5N1 virus that sickens or kills affected fowls. Over the years, H5N1 has killed 62 people in Vietnam in total.

H5N1 was detected among livestock in Bac Ninh Province outside Hanoi January 2. The virus sickened duck herds in the Mekong Delta's Bac Lieu Province in December and the nearby Tien Giang in November.

Checks at 147 livestock markets in 44 cities and provinces last year found more than 60 percent of their merchandise positive with the virus.

Phu also warned about the consistent occurrence of new bird flu virus strains affecting humans in China: H10N8 in December or nine months after H7N9 was first reported, and H9N2 this month.

Earlier, a new virus strain only occurred every three to five years.

Trinh Quan Huan, former Vice Minister of Health, told Tuoi Tre the new virus strains could have resulted from climate change combined with unhygienic breeding methods.

Or the strains have already been around for some time but in smaller scales and less dangerous forms, Huan said.

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