195 Vietnamese being tested for avian flu, report says

Mar 21, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A Vietnamese newspaper has reported that 195 people in an area affected by H5N1 avian influenza have suspicious symptoms and are being tested for the disease.

Than Nien News reported yesterday that the possible cases are in the Chau Hoa commune in Quang Binh province in central Vietnam. A 5-year-old boy from the commune tested positive for avian flu last week. Yesterday the paper said that tests had confirmed avian flu in the boy's 13-year-old sister, who died Mar 9. However, another Vietnamese news agency said on Mar 19 that the girl had not been tested.

The commune "has been severely hit by the bird flu, with 195 patients showing symptoms and two children testing positive with the virus," Than Nien News reported. The information was attributed to Mai Xuan Thu, vice chairman of the provincial People's Committee.

The story said it was not clear whether the sick people, "some of whom had eaten sick chickens, have the symptoms of the deadly bird flu or the normal flu." The report did not mention any deaths among the suspected cases and gave no details about the symptoms.

If many of the people test positive for H5N1, it could mean that the virus is improving its ability to spread from person to person, thereby increasing the risk of a flu pandemic. Nearly all the human cases of H5N1 avian flu since late 2003 have been attributed to exposure to poultry. Experts believe that one patient, a 11-year-old Thai girl, probably transmitted the virus to her mother and an aunt last September.

"The outbreak hit the province's Kinh Chau village in Chau Hoa commune just ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays which started Feb 9," the newspaper report said. It said 108 of the 195 people are from Kinh Chau and the rest live in other villages in the same commune.

Another Than Nien News story, published today, said, "An interagency task force has arrived at the commune to take immediate necessary actions to stabilize the situation and fend off the spread of the epidemic." That news was attributed to an anonymous source.

The report said all the patients are being tested for the virus, and those with "unusual" symptoms have been transferred to a hospital in the city of Hue for "quarantine treatment."

Other Vietnamese online news services did not appear to be reporting the story of the 195 suspected cases today.

The 5-year-old boy with avian flu, named Hoang Trong Duong, was in serious condition, according to yesterday's Than Nien report.

In a Mar 18 story, the newspaper said no samples from the boy's 13-year-old sister, named Hoang Lan Huong, had been preserved for testing. But the two more recent stories said she had tested positive for avian flu.

However, a Mar 19 report by Viet Nam News quoted Pham Ngoc Dinh, deputy director of the Central Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Hanoi, as saying the girl had not been tested for the virus.

The two children fell ill after the family had eaten a chicken given them by relatives, according to reports.

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