Vietnamese boy, 9, dies of avian flu

Jan 5, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A 9-year-old boy from southern Vietnam died of H5N1 avian influenza yesterday, according to news services.

The death of Thach Phung marks the first reported fatality due to avian flu since late October, according to the World Health Organization's (WHO's) tally, which has stood at 32 deaths and 44 total cases since then.

The boy was from Cang Long district of the southern province of Tra Vinh, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. He had been in contact with infected poultry, developed a high fever and was taken to a local hospital, according to the AFP report of comments by the deputy director of Tra Vinh provincial hospital. The boy was transferred to the Hospital of Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan 3, where he tested positive for avian flu.

A 16-year-old girl from southern Vietnam’s Tay Ninh province was diagnosed with the H5N1 flu last week; she remains hospitalized in Ho Chi Minh City on a respirator, AFP reported today. (Her case has not yet been included in the WHO's case count.)

The two latest cases may herald a long winter in a region buffeted in 2004 by human deaths and the loss of millions of poultry from disease and culling. Six provinces in Vietnam have reported new outbreaks of H5N1 in poultry in recent weeks, according to data from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). At least 22,000 birds have been culled since early December to stop the disease from spreading, officials said in an AFP report.

The resurgence of avian flu in Vietnam comes at a time when many Vietnamese are looking forward to a traditional festival that includes eating poultry.

“The demand for poultry consumption always booms when Vietnamese people prepare for the traditional lunar new year festival in early February,” Bui Quang Anh, animal health department director, said in comments reported by AFP.

The government is stepping up control measures, according to a Jan 5 online story by Kyodo News of Japan. Ha Tay province, for example, is giving money to people who discover outbreaks early. Prime Minister Phan Van Khai banned movement of sick poultry from affected areas and is seeking increased monitoring, especially along the Chinese border, AFP reported.

Poultry movement is also being closely watched in Malaysia. Officials there today declared the country free of avian flu, emphasizing that internal and external movement of poultry would be strictly supervised, according to a story by Bernama, Malaysia's national news service.

Malaysia will maintain its ban on importing chickens, ducks, and eggs from affected countries, officials were reported as saying.

“The threat is still high as neighboring countries are still grappling with the disease,” said Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, with the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Ministry. The last report of a case was on Nov 22, 2004.

Movement of fighting cocks from Kelantan state remains prohibited, he added. The H5N1 outbreak, which began last August in Kelantan, was attributed to fighting cocks smuggled from Thailand.

Movement of poultry in Kelantan will now be allowed, but exporting from there requires a permit, the story noted.

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