HANOI, 11 February 2009 (IRIN) – Vietnam’s second human avian influenza case this year has been confirmed by health authorities, who are scrambling to contain the disease that has now spread to poultry in seven central and southern provinces.
Ly Tai Mui, from northern Quang Ninh Province, is seriously ill with pneumonia, having tested positive for human avian flu. The 23-year-old was hospitalised with fever and breathing difficulties in January after eating a sick chicken.
Nguyen Huy Nga, head of the Preventative Health and Environment Agency, told IRIN the woman had shown “no improvement despite continuous positive treatment”.
Nga said no other family members had shown signs of the virus even though they had also eaten infected poultry.
Vaccination efforts have become lax because Vietnam had, until recently, considered itself bird flu-free. Farmers have also delayed reporting outbreaks. In one case a crowd tried to prevent authorities from culling birds that were being transported to the capital and lacked proper health certificates.
“Hundreds of people were trying to grab the chickens,” said Nguyen Huy Dang, a senior official with Hanoi’s Animal Health Department. “They jumped into the pit where we were burning the [live] birds, even after we told them they had been sprayed with chemicals.”
Animal health officials and market workers were unable to stop the crowds, which eventually made off with nearly all 1,500 birds. Police arrested nine people for trying to stop the cull.
“We never expected anything like that to happen,” said Dang. “It’s never happened before so we didn’t have the personnel to prevent it.”
Vietnam has made impressive gains against avian influenza since the virus first appeared in the county in December 2003.
After several dozen people died, the government decided in 2005 to vaccinate all 220 million domestic fowl, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization.
Today, however, vaccination efforts are not as rigorous as when the programme was first introduced. Compliance was initially very high as farmers were terrified their flocks would become sick and be culled. But the success of the programme has also bred complacency.
Tran Cong Xuan, head of the Vietnam Poultry Association, said vaccination programmes this year had been patchy. “In some areas officials have not carried out vaccinations properly, and some localities report fake vaccination results as they want to report achievements.”
Animal health officials in the southern province of Hau Giang said the recent outbreak of bird flu there was due to several farmers failing to register their ducks so the birds were never vaccinated.
“When we learned there were ducks dying, we came, but there were only 212 ducks left [out of about 400],” said Nguyen Hien Trung, head of the provincial animal health department. The rest of the ducks had died, said Trung. “The owners of the farm said they just threw the dead ducks into the river.”
The first human case of bird flu in Vietnam in 2009 was of an eight-year-old girl in northern Thanh Hoa province. She eventually recovered but her older sister, who showed symptoms of the virus, died on 2 January. The girl was never tested for H5N1.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the avian influenza virus is transmitted to humans by eating uncooked meat or coming into contact with the faeces of an infected bird. Cases of human-to-human transmission are very rare but health authorities fear the virus could mutate into a form that could spread easily between people, developing into a pandemic strain that could move between countries.
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