Saturday, January 20, 2007

Bird flu spreads further in Vietnam

A rash of bird flu outbreaks has spread to an eighth province in southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta region, the government said yesterday, raising fears of a wider winter-time resurgence of the virus.

Laboratory tests had shown the H5N1 strain of the virus had killed 30 ducklings in the Co Do district of Can Tho city last Friday, the national animal health department in Hanoi said in an online report.

Communist Vietnam, which registered 42 human deaths from bird flu between late 2003 and late 2005, saw no new human or animal cases last year, until the virus struck birds on southern poultry farms in December.

The outbreaks, blamed on gaps in fowl vaccination campaigns and the illegal hatching of ducks, have now spread to 38 communes in the provinces of Ca Mau, Bac Lieu, Hau Giang, Vinh Long, Kien Giang, Tra Vinh, Soc Trang and Can Tho city.

World Health Organisation and Vietnamese government experts have warned of a heightened bird flu risk in the winter months and around the mid-February traditional Tet New Year's festival, when demand for poultry rises sharply.

Meanwhile, a biological test showed an outbreak of bird flu at a poultry farm in southwestern Japan last week was due to a highly virulent type within the H5N1 strain of the virus, a farm ministry official said yesterday.

Earlier tests had shown that the virus had the N1 component, making it distinct from the less lethal H5N2 strain. But a biological test under the guidelines of the World Organisation for Animal Health was required to determine how highly poisonous the virus was, as not all types of the H5N1 strain are equally virulent, the ministry official said. In the test, eight birds were injected on Tuesday with the virus taken from dead birds at the farm, and by yesterday all eight had died, confirming that it was highly virulent.

Further genetic tests will allow experts to analyse the results, the ministry said in a later statement. There have been no reported cases of human infection or additional outbreaks in poultry in Japan. Almost 4,000 birds died from the disease at the affected farm, and authorities killed the farm's remaining 8,000 chickens on Sunday.

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