Vietnamese girl's death adds to avian flu toll

Apr 6, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A 10-year-old girl is the latest victim of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in Vietnam, news services reported today.

Nguyen Hai Yen died Mar 27 in Hanoi's St. Paul's Hospital, and tests confirmed her illness on Apr 4, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported today. Nguyen lived in Hanoi, said a hospital staff doctor who wished to remain unidentified.

Her death brings the unofficial case count to 82, with 51 deaths, since the H5N1 virus began spreading through eastern Asia in late 2003.

Epidemiologists were also looking into the abrupt death of a doctor who worked at Vietnam-Sweden Hospital in the northern Vietnamese province of Quang Ninh. Ho Dai Nghia, 34, died on Apr 3, 2 days after he began showing signs of acute pneumonia, according to Xinhua, a Chinese news service. He received emergency treatment for SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), but the cause of his illness wasn't clear today. He is being tested for H5N1 flu as well as SARS, news sources reported.

Two people with confirmed avian flu and one person with a suspected case have been treated at Vietnam-Sweden Hospital, according to a story published today by Bloomberg News. However, the deputy director of the Quang Ninh health department said the physician was not known to have had contact with any of those three patients, according to the report.

Human H5N1 infections are persisting in Vietnam even though poultry outbreaks are diminishing, AFP reported. All but two of the 35 Vietnamese cities and provinces affected by poultry outbreaks in recent months have been free of the disease for more than 3 weeks, according to an agriculture ministry daily report.

Elsewhere in Asia, a World Health Organization (WHO) employee in Thailand speculated that the reported outbreak of H7 avian flu among poultry in North Korea could increase the risk of a human flu pandemic.

"The fact that two viruses—one with a proven track record of transmitting easily into people and another with a mortality rate of between 50 and 80 percent—are circulating in Asia at the same time is something to keep a very close eye on," said William L. Aldis, WHO representative in Thailand, as quoted in an AP story.

If H7 and H5N1 exchanged genetic material, it could create an "organism with H5 lethality and H7 transmissibility," he added. Tests on the North Korean avian flu strain are ongoing.

H7N7 avian flu is potentially more transmissible among humans than H5N1 is. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report lists 93 human cases, including one death, as the result of H7 infections. All but four of these were linked with a major avian flu outbreak in the Netherlands in 2003. Most people who fell ill during that outbreak had only conjunctivitis, but one veterinarian died of pneumonia.

Follow-up research on the Netherlands outbreak suggested there were high rates of transmission of the virus from chickens to people and secondary transmission from person to person. On the basis of antibody testing, researchers estimated that 1,000 to 2,000 people were infected with H7N7 in the outbreak.

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