Vietnam claims headway in avian flu battle

Feb 15, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – Vietnamese and international officials concerned that the Lunar New Year would encourage the spread of avian influenza had some good news: the travel-heavy holiday didn't bring any new reports of human cases, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported yesterday.

"It seems that we did not see the increase in the number of cases that we were worried about," Hans Troedsson, World Health Organization (WHO) director in Vietnam, told AFP. "But what we really need now is to work on the long term."

After a seasonal lull, the H5N1 virus reappeared in people in Vietnam in late December. A dozen Vietnamese have died of the illness since then, and four more became ill. In addition, a Cambodian woman who fell ill at her home died in a Vietnamese hospital.

Along with the letup in human cases, there are signs of headway in the Vietnamese government's battle to quell outbreaks among poultry.

"The situation is much better compared to the days before New Year," Bui Quang Anh, head of the agriculture ministry's animal health department, told AFP. Seven of the 34 provinces and cities fighting avian flu had gone 21 days without reporting any new cases in poultry, Anh reported. New outbreaks were reported in three areas, which was called the lowest figure since the recent resurgence of H5N1.

Still, about 4,500 birds, mostly on small farms, were culled on Feb 13, the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported today. The outbreak has affected 34 provinces and cities and led to the deaths or culling of more than 1.5 million poultry, VNA said.

Troedsson said that while the current prevention and monitoring measures were effective, the battle against H5N1 is in its infancy, according to the AFP story.

"It's mainly an agricultural issue. Not only is it a matter of getting rid of the virus but also to change the structure of the poultry production," he reportedly said.

In Thailand, officials were preparing to cull poultry in affected areas to prevent the spread of H5N1 to other districts, according to a story yesterday by the Chinese news service Xinhua. More than 1,000 chickens had been culled in Phrompiran district, the worst hit district in Phitsanulok province, which has seen a number of outbreaks recently.

In Thailand today, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra tabled a proposal to cull more than 10 million ducks and institute an emergency plan to cope with avian flu, the Bangkok Post reported. A meeting between experts and the affected business groups will be called next week, a spokesman told the newspaper.

The prime minister's hesitation stemmed from doubts that culling domestic ducks would be the most effective strategy and concern that taking steps to prevent human-to-human transmission might send the wrong signal about the possibility of human cases in Thailand, the Post reported.

Most human cases of avian flu have resulted from contact with sick birds. However, two Thai women probably acquired the disease from a family member whom they cared for in a hospital last September.

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