HANOI, Vietnam, March 15, 2005 (ENS): Newly published research
suggests a common source for several of the highly pathogenic
bird flu viruses circulating in East Asia. The viruses
have claimed the lives of 46 people and hundreds of
millions of birds since December 2003 when the most
recent outbreaks were first reported in Vietnam and
The paper by Doan C. Nguyen and 20 others published
in the current issue of the "Journal of Virology"
is based on the study of poultry in live bird markets
in Hanoi during 2001.
"Since 1997, outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1
and circulation of H9N2 viruses among domestic poultry
in Asia have posed a threat to public health,"
Nguyen and his team wrote.
The research team collected samples of five virus subtypes
- H5N1, H9N2, H4N6, H5N2, and H9N3 - from 189 birds
and 18 environmental samples.
The scientists found that certain genes of the H5N1
viruses "shared high amino acid identities with
genes of other H5N1 viruses isolated in Asia" during
2001, "but they were genetically distinct from
those of H5N1 viruses isolated from poultry and humans
in Vietnam during the early 2004 outbreaks."
"These results establish that HP [highly pathogenic]
H5N1 viruses with properties similar to viruses isolated
in Hong Kong and mainland China circulated in Viet Nam
as early as 2001, suggest a common source for H5N1 viruses
circulating in these Asian countries, and provide a
framework to better understand the recent widespread
emergence of HP H5N1 viruses in Asia," Nguyen and
his colleagues wrote.
The World Health Organization and national health officials
around the world are concerned that the virus may mutate
to a form that can spread easily from human to human.
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese Ministry of Health Friday
confirmed an additional 10 cases of human infection
with H5N1 avian influenza.
The report is an official notification to the World
Health Organization (WHO) of some recent cases, whose
infection was detected in March, combined with retrospective
notification of older cases, some of which date back
to late January.
Of these newly reported cases, three people have died
of the disease.
This report brings the total number of laboratory confirmed
cases in Vietnam, detected since mid-December 2004,
to 24. Of these, 13 have been fatal.
This notification of cases follows new reporting procedures
established within the Ministry of Health in collaboration
with WHO staff in Hanoi. Health officials say the new
arrangements will eliminate ambiguous diagnoses, misidentification
of patients, and double counting.
WHO said it will issue details showing dates of onset,
outcome, and province for all 24 cases as soon as the
information comes in from Vietnam's Ministry of Health.
Full information on new cases, including those that
may be closely related in time and place, is critical
to ongoing assessment of the pandemic risk posed by
the H5N1 virus, WHO said in a statement Friday
"Rapid field investigation of each new case is
essential to ensure timely detection of clusters of
cases occurring in family members or health care workers.
Such cases can provide the first signal that the virus
is altering its behaviour in human populations and thus
alert authorities to the need to intervene quickly,"
the World Health Organization said.
The first human cases of H5N1 infection, linked to
poultry outbreaks in parts of Asia that have been ongoing
since December 2003, were reported in January 2004 in
Vietnam and Thailand. Since then, a total of 69 cases
have been reported, of which 46 were fatal.
Human cases have occurred in three phases, said the
international agency. From January through March 2004
there were 35 cases, and 24 deaths.
From August through October 2004, nine cases were reported,
of which eight were fatal.
And in the present phase, from December 2004 to date,
there have been 25 cases, with 14 deaths. This total
includes a single case in Cambodia, which was fatal,
in addition to those in Vietnam.
One health care worker in Thailand is breathing a sigh
of relief on learning that she escaped infection. A
nurse suspected as having bird flu has tested negative
for the disease, Vietnamese health officials announced
Sunday. Test results provided by the Center for Tropical
Diseases in Hanoi showed the nurse was free of H5N1,
the deadly strain of avian influenza, said Vietnam's
Central Institution of Sanitation and Epidemiology.
The nurse, who worked in a hospital in the Red River
Delta province of Thai Binh, was previously thought
to be infected and was hospitalized for treatment.
Another male nurse, infected with bird flu four days
ago after having had direct contact with infected patients,
has shown signs of improvement, doctors said.
The institution is now carrying out an extensive search
on how the virus gets circulated in the province of
Thai Binh, where a number of people were found to be
affected by the disease.
In an attempt to halt the spread of these viruses among
poultry, duck flocks in the Mekong Delta will be vaccinated
against bird flu in April, according to the Animal Health
Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural
The recent inoculation of chicken in the northern province
of Ha Tay has shown "encouraging" results,
the department announced.
Animal health officials plans to continue using bird
flu vaccines made in China and the Netherlands for this
The decision to vaccinate birds is a change in the
country's official control policy, health officials
say. The last government report on control measures
issued on February 28, specified the following measures:
control of arthropods; control of wildlife reservoirs;
quarantine; movement control inside the country; stamping-out
policy; and screening.
Chief veterinary officers from 28 countries meeting
in Ho Chi Minh City February 23 to 25, declared, "with
the success of vaccination in preventing and controlling
the disease in the past year in several countries and
regions, the meeting agreed that vaccines can be a strong
weapon in the fight against the disease in poultry,
and the possibility of vaccinating ducks should be explored."
But the veterinary officers called for further study
"on the conditions in which vaccines can be delivered
with minimum risk to human health."
To date, only China and Indonesia officially allow
avian influenza vaccination. Thailand indicated in December
2004 that its health officials are planning field vaccination
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All