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Two more died of bird flu in Viet Nam
( 2004-02-04 14:48) (Agencies)

Two more people have died in Viet Nam from bird flu, health officials say, taking the number of people killed by the disease in the country to 11 out of 15 confirmed cases.

A 24-year-old man from the central province of Lam Dong died Tuesday, while a 15-year-old girl from Tay Ninh in the south passed away on January 27, said Truong Trong Hoang, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City's health department.

"Both victims tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza at the city's Pasteur Institute," he said.

The teenager died four hours after being admitted to the southern business capital's Cho Ray Hospital. The man died the day after being taken to the city's Hospital for Tropical Disease.

Confirmation of their deaths followed an announcement late Tuesday by the World Health Organization that a 19-year-old man from the northern province of Bac Giang had been infected with H5N1 but made a full recovery.

The UN health agency also said a 20-year-old woman from neighbouring Bac Ninh province, who had also tested positive for the virus, remained hospitalized at Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital.

Laboratory tests conducted at Vietnam's National Institute for Hygiene and Epidemiology and at a WHO-collaborating laboratory in Hong Kong were used to verify that both these patients had been infected with the H5N1.

Bob Dietz, the WHO's spokesman in Viet Nam, said the organization needed to examine the results of the tests carried out by the Pasteur Institute on the two latest victims before making any public comment.

"We certainly trust the Pasteur Institute but before we issue our own confirmation we want to analyze the results. It is a very cautious process," he said.

In human terms, Viet Nam is the worst hit of the 10 Asian nations tackling bird flu outbreaks. Of its 15 confirmed H5N1 cases, two people have made full recoveries, while two others remain in hospital.

Dozens of others are also suspected of contracting the virus, some of whom have already died but were never tested for bird flu.

On Sunday, the WHO rang the alarm bells in Viet Nam when it announced that two sisters who died on January 23 could have contracted H5N1 from their dead brother. All previous infections were the result of contact with sick poultry.

But in an apparent bid to prevent panic, UN health agency said there was "no evidence of efficient human-to-human transmission of H5N1 occurring in Vietnam or elsewhere".

The following day the WHO warned that a northern hemisphere human influenza virus may have reached Vietnam, raising the risk that it could combine with H5N1 to create a lethal new virus that could kill millions of people worldwide.

But it also stressed that Asia still had a chance to contain the disease because of the relatively few confirmed human infections.

Experts says the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to kill off all poultry in an infected area.

More than 8.6 million poultry have died or been culled over the past month in 53 of Viet Nam's 64 provinces and cities that have reported outbreaks.

But the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that not enough birds were being slaughtered, mainly because farmers were receiving inadequate compensation.

Hindering containment of the deadly virus has been the disorganization and lack of equipment in Viet Nam's veterinary sector, disease control experts say.

The US embassy, however, said Wednesday it would donate special protective clothing and decontamination equipment to the Vietnamese government in response to the WHO's appeal for international help.

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