Mar 29, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Vietnamese agriculture officials said Vietnam would declare itself free of avian influenza tomorrow, major news services reported today.
Bui Quang Anh, director of the Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Department, said today that officials will make an announcement tomorrow afternoon so that the country can start rebuilding its poultry flocks, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The announcement came despite repeated warnings from United Nations health and agricultural agencies that countries hit by avian flu should be sure that the virus has stopped circulating before they begin restocking their farms. The report also came 2 weeks after the latest reported human death in Vietnam attributed to the H5N1 flu virus.
Outbreaks of H5N1 avian flu have been reported in 57 of Vietnam's 64 provinces, and more than 38 million poultry have died of infection or been killed to contain it. The country has had at least 22 human cases, with at least 15 deaths. A 16th death, that of a 12-year-old boy on Mar 15, was reported in the media but has not been officially confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The AP report today said the Vietnamese Ministry of Health had not received confirmation of the cause of the boy's death.
Nguyen van Dong, Vietnam's deputy director of animal health, said today that 45 provinces already have declared themselves free of avian flu, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. No new outbreaks have been reported in the country since Feb 26, according to the World Animal Health Organization (OIE).
The AP quoted Anton Rychener, a representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Hanoi, as calling the Vietnamese plan "premature." He warned that more outbreaks are almost certain and would undermine the government's credibility.
The FAO and WHO said Mar 19 that affected countries should do "in-depth investigations" before declaring victory over avian flu. They said authorities should conduct serologic surveys and use unvaccinated sentinel chickens to determine if the virus is still circulating, among other measures. Today's reports did not suggest how much investigating Vietnamese authorities have done.
In other recent developments, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced Mar 24 it would destroy another 275,000 chickens in an effort to control an outbreak of H7N3 avian flu at Abbotsford, British Columbia, near Vancouver. Officials said the action would affect 10 farms and 33 smaller flocks. The announcement followed the detection of the disease on two more farms, bringing the number of affected farms in the area to five.
An AP report said the additional culling would increase to 365,000 the number of chickens killed by the disease or in the containment effort.
Another report today said a CFIA worker who handled dead chickens on one of the affected farms in British Columbia had been infected by the virus but had recovered. According to an AFP report quoting CBC television, provincial health officer Perry Kendall said the worker had tested positive last week. The employee reportedly had conjunctivitis and other symptoms.
In the Netherlands last year, an outbreak of H7N7 avian flu affected hundreds of farms and led to 83 confirmed human cases, including one death. The WHO said 79 people had conjunctivitis and 13 had mild flu-like symptoms. A 57-year-old veterinarian died 2 days after working at an affected farm.
In Texas, continued testing last week revealed no more avian flu cases in a 10-mile surveillance zone around a Gonzales County farm where highly pathogenic H5N2 avian flu was discovered in February, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The USDA said authorities had tested samples from 164 farms in the latest round of surveillance. Serologic sampling will continue in the area until the second week of June, officials said.