Vietnamese dies of avian flu; China has cases in wild geese

May 23, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – As Vietnam reported another fatal human case of avian influenza today, Chinese authorities began mobilizing for a massive poultry vaccination campaign following news that a wild goose die-off was due to the H5N1 virus.

A 46-year-old man from northern Vietnam's Hung Yen province died of avian flu May 19 at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, the Associated Press (AP) reported today. He had been admitted May 16 with the high fever, coughing, and breathing problems that often signal avian flu, said Phan Tien Son, director of the provincial preventive medicine center.

The man had tested positive for the H5N1 virus May 18, Son said.

Epidemiologists are investigating how the man contracted avian flu, the AP reported. Officials took samples from 15 family members and other contacts, Son said. Investigators also took samples from the family's ducks, since ducks have been implicated as "silent carriers" of the H5N1 virus.

If the man's illness is the result of contact with poultry, ducks may be the culprit. He had not traveled recently, and no poultry outbreaks of avian flu had been reported in his village, the AP said. The man hadn't eaten any duck, and the family flock appeared healthy.

On the basis of World Health Organization (WHO) reports, the latest fatality brings the number of avian flu deaths in Asia since late 2003 to 54. Vietnam has had 38 deaths in that time, including 18 in the latest wave of cases, which began in December 2004.

The AP said today that avian flu has re-emerged in China for the first time since July 2004. Authorities were preparing to vaccinate millions of poultry after the H5N1 virus was found in samples from migratory geese in a province of western China bordering on Tibet and Sichuan.

The 178 bar-headed geese found dead between May 4 and 8 on a nature reserve in Qinghai province died of H5N1 flu, Reuters news service reported. Now all nature reserves in China have been sealed off.

Authorities have not found any domestic poultry outbreaks or human illnesses, Reuters said. The Chinese government ordered the vaccination of all domestic ducks, geese, and other poultry in Qinghai Province for avian flu. Three million doses of vaccine were being sent to the province. In addition, farmers along bird migration routes in other provinces were ordered to vaccinate their flocks.

The WHO urged China to increase its surveillance, Reuters reported.

"In terms of the evolution of the pandemic [threat] if it spreads over a larger area—and this does seem like a new area—then it is going to be harder to prise the virus out of the environment," said Dick Thompson, a WHO spokesman in Geneva. "This doesn't change the risk assessment, but it's still at a high level."

Malaysia responded to China's outbreak by banning all imports of chicken and chicken products from China, the AP reported today.

China has successfully managed H5N1 outbreaks in the past, Reuters said. A combination of vaccinations, culling, and surveillance, including the burning of about 145,000 birds, brought an outbreak under control last year.

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