January 15, 2004
WHO To Verify Death More Vietnam Bird Flu Victims
Following confirmation of three bird flu related deaths in Vietnam, the World Health Organization will verify if another six deaths are related.
Tests are being done on the six deaths, but some additional cases believed linked to the bird flu can no longer be checked because they happened too long ago, said WHO epidemiologist Peter Horby.
He said preliminary tests in the six cases have come back negative.
Since October, 14 people - 13 of them children - have come down with respiratory illnesses believed linked to the H5N1 bird flu strain that has raced through farms in the region. Twelve of the victims have died, including the three confirmed as having the virus.
The disease's flu-like symptoms in people include fever and coughing. The virus is believed to have been transmitted only from sick birds to people, with no further transmission due to human contact, health officials said.
The H5N1 virus has ravaged chicken farms throughout Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta, with more than 1 million birds sickened. Farmers have been ordered to destroy all infected birds. A northern province just outside Hanoi has also been hit hard.
All the 12 people who died were in capital Hanoi.
Two patients remain hospitalized, with one improving while the other is still on a respirator, Horby said, adding that if the disease starts spreading from human to human, it "would be very hard to control."
But he expressed optimism, saying there is no history of bird flu becoming contagious among people. He said two outbreaks in Hong Kong - one in 1997 that killed six people - only spread from chickens to humans.
An epidemiologist and virologist from WHO's regional headquarters in Manila arrived in Hanoi Tuesday to monitor the disease, and experts are expected to meet with the Health Ministry to form a game plan.
Horby said those involved in culling sick chickens have been advised to wear protective gear, such as masks, gowns, gloves and goggles.
Meanwhile, as concerns spread through the communist country a week before the Tet Lunar New Year ¨C Vietnam's biggest holiday - authorities said they weren't sure what other types of livestock might be affected.
"We cannot rule out the possibility that the virus in poultry could infect people through another mammal, such as pigs," said Dau Ngoc Hao, deputy director of the Veterinary Department in Hanoi.
The bird flu virus has spread rapidly throughout Asia. It has killed millions of chickens in South Korea and Japan. Hong Kong and Cambodia on Tuesday banned poultry imports from countries affected by bird flu.