2004-01-20 10:18:02
Asian nations battle bird flu

HANOI: Viet Nam has banned the transport of chickens within 18 southern provinces in an effort to contain a bird flu outbreak that has killed at least three people and nearly 2 million poultry.

The Agriculture Ministry said late last Wednesday no chickens could be moved in or out of the 18 provinces, where it is believed the outbreak originated late last year.

Some 12 people in northern Viet Nam have died from influenza, but only three have been confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to have contracted bird flu.

It is unclear how the three caught the virus.

Viet Nam has said there are five more suspected human cases of bird flu, which experts say could be more devastating than last year's SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus if it combines with a human influenza virus.

WHO, which has sent two experts to the Southeast Asian country for consultations, said a vaccine to fight the outbreak will arrive in the next few weeks.

Viet Nam lacks the expertise and equipment to fight the disease.

The outbreak came just weeks before Tet, the Lunar New Year holiday, which is Viet Nam's biggest festival, and which features chicken as a major dish.

It is still unclear if the virus can be transmitted by human-to-human contact, official Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper quoted professor Hoang Thuy Long, director with the Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, as saying last Thursday.

Doctors said three of the five suspected cases were relatives of a patient who had died with influenza symptoms.

"As we are not able to define if the H5N1 flu virus could jump from humans to humans, the fight against this flu has yet to have a clear target," Long said.

"It is expected that the avian influenza strain A (H5N1) would linger."

Long, in an interview with the official Viet Nam News Agency, also said the avian influenza strain A could infect ducks, chickens, pigs, horses and humans.

"In a case when a pig is infected by both the poultry virus and the human (flu) virus, this host will create a new virus, which has most of the human genes, and either one protein H, one protein N or both of them from the poultry virus," he said.

The outer surface of the influenza virus contains two glycoproteins - hemagglutinin (H), which has 15 sub-types, and the neuraminidase (N) with nine subtypes.

Long said the newly created virus will be more dangerous, and that the human body might not be able to fight off the invading virus. He could not be reached on Thursday for further comment.

Japan and South Korea have also reported major outbreaks of bird flu that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of poultry being culled.

Agencies via Xinhua

(Business Weekly 01/20/2004 page2)

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