Jun 17, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially logged another four cases of H5N1 avian influenza in Vietnam, following a report to the agency today from the Vietnamese government.
The cases occurred between Jun 1 and 17. Two of the patients are from Hanoi, one is from Hai Duong, and the fourth is from Nghe An, the WHO reported. The agency said seven patients are being treated for avian flu at a hospital in Hanoi.
The report from Vietnam to the WHO comes on the heels of a Jun 16 report in the Canadian Press (CP) in which Dr. Klaus Stohr, head of the WHO influenza program, criticized the country for reporting delays. On Jun 15, multiple media reports from Vietnam said six people had tested positive for avian flu this month and that a seventh, a physician, might also have contracted the illness.
Unfortunately, today's disclosure from Vietnam does little to clarify the situation, Stohr told the CP today.
"The data which we have received do not suffice to determine whether these are the cases which we became aware of yesterday [Jun 16]," Stohr said. That's when the WHO received unofficial confirmation it felt was sufficiently strong to issue a statement saying it believed the media reports of six new cases were accurate, the CP said.
"It could be the case that two more cases could be reported tomorrow. We don't know," Stohr told the CP. "The reality is that is the piece of information that we have."
Vietnam's delays in reporting avian flu cases to the WHO have been a persistent issue in this latest outbreak, which began in mid-December 2004. The delays could jeopardize efforts to contain avian flu's spread among people, Stohr was quoted as saying in the Jun 16 CP story.
"We want to use this window of opportunity for early intervention . . . [but] we have to start moving when the window is opening and not when it's closing," Stohr told the CP. He added that the world would have up to a month to launch a full response to an emerging pandemic.
Examples of reporting problems involving Vietnam are numerous. They are most evident in the delays between cases reported in reputable media and the confirmation of those cases by the WHO, which regularly posts updates soon after Vietnam notifies the organization of new cases.
In addition, media reports originating in from Vietnam often differ widely. For instance, China's Xinhua news agency, citing a Vietnamese newspaper as its source, ran stories yesterday and today saying that a doctor at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi had tested positive for H5N1 flu. The story also said 23 people with avian flu symptoms were being treated in a Hanoi hospital and that 11 of them had tested positive for H5N1.
A separate source, the Vietnam News Service (VNS), ran a story online yesterday saying that two patients confirmed as having H5N1 were being treated at the National Institute for Clinical Research into Tropical Diseases and five others with type A flu were being treated at the same hospital.
The institute had forwarded samples from those five patients for further testing and was expecting results next week, VNS reported.
Jun 17 WHO update on avian flu