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Vietnamese boy dies of bird flu
Updated: 2004-03-20 14:10

A 12-year-old boy has died of bird flu in Vietnam, a medical official said on Saturday, taking Asia's toll from the virus to 24 and dealing a blow to the Hanoi's hopes to eradicate the disease by the end of this month.

"Test results from the boy showed that he was H5N1 positive," said Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, director of the Pasteur Institute in southern Ho Chi Minh City, referring to the strain of avian influenza that has killed 15 other people in Vietnam and eight in Thailand.

World Health Organisation officials in Hanoi could not be reached to confirm the death, but they and other experts have cautioned that fresh outbreaks are possible in Vietnam, which aimed to declare an end to the outbreak by end-March.

"The main risk is that as long as there continues to be avian influenza in the region, there is still the potential for outbreaks," said WHO epidemiologist Richard Brown in a statement issued in Hanoi on Friday.

"For this reason, countries need to strengthen surveillance, maintain vigilance and have robust contingency plans ready."

The last Vietnam fatality from the disease was reported on February 18.

Ten of the 16 victims were under 17 years old.

All the victims are believed to have contracted the virus from sick poultry. In total, more than 100 million birds have been culled or have died from bird flu across Asia. Experts suspect the virus is spread by migratory birds or wild fowl.

Tien said the boy, from southern Tay Ninh province, about 125 km (78 miles) west of Ho Chi Minh City, died on March 15. She did not say how the oy had caught the virus.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's largest population centre, lifted a ban on selling poultry on March 5. The capital Hanoi has not officially resumed trade but chicken and eggs are widely available for sale.

On Friday, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the bird flu epidemic was not under control and further outbreaks could occur in Thailand and neighbouring countries.

Vietnam is starting to rebuild its poultry industry but the FAO's Vietnam representative Anton Rychener said earlier this week the country should not rush to restock until proper precautions, such as testing of the birds, were in place.

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