Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 230 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 17-Aug-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 18-Aug-2004
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Human cases of avian influenza: situation in Viet Nam

Three deaths from avian influenza were announced on 12 August 2004. The cases in the northern Ha Tay province of Viet Nam and included a four-year-old boy, who died on 2 August, and an 11-month-old girl, who died on 4 August. The case in the southern Hau Giang province was a 25-year-old woman, who died on 6 August. Specimens from this patient have now tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

WHO has also been informed that specimens from a small number of additional patients, from both northern and southern parts of the country, are also being tested. The government has been investigating cases of severe pneumonia, most of which have been fatal, that have been detected in children and young adults over the past three weeks. Specimens are not available for all of the fatal cases.

In epidemiological investigations, specimens were taken from household contacts of confirmed cases. All contacts remain healthy. Investigators have also sampled poultry and other domestic animals near the households. Results from these and other studies will shed some light on the sources of infection and modes of transmission in the present outbreak.

Earlier this year, Viet Nam reported outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza in poultry in 57 of the country’s 64 provinces, resulting in the death or destruction of more than 43 million poultry. After a period of quiescence, Viet Nam reported fresh outbreaks in poultry in July in provinces in northern, central, and southern parts of the country. Outbreaks were also reported in July in China, Indonesia, and Thailand.

The confirmation of these latest human cases underscores the risk of virus transmission to humans from infected poultry. This risk will continue as long as outbreaks are occurring in poultry. Of greatest concern is the risk that continuing transmission of the virus to humans will give avian and influenza viruses an opportunity to exchange genes, potentially giving rise to a new virus with pandemic potential.

WHO is working closely with national authorities and is being informed as test results become available. Multiple tests are often required before results can be considered conclusive.

In its communications with the Ministry of Health, WHO has offered full assistance in sending specimens to WHO international reference laboratories for test verification and further analysis.

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