11/08/2005, 00.00
ASIA

A new death from bird flu in Vietnam

A winter outbreak is feared. Beijing calls on the World Health Organisation for help. In Geneva experts and politicians discuss ways to intervene.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Bird flu has struck again killing a man in Vietnam, whilst China calls for the intervention of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and adopts drastic measures. In Geneva world experts stress the need to have a common and coordinated approach to the disease.

Vietnam. The new victim is a 35-year-old man from Hanoi who died late last month after eating a chicken with his family. The man was taken to Bach Mai hospital on October 26 with respiratory difficulties and died three days later.

Since 2003, 64 people are known to have died from the disease: 42 in Vietnam alone (but the last one was in July), 13 in Thailand, 5 in Indonesia and 4 in Cambodia.

However, many experts believe that these are only official figures—many more deaths have gone unreported for lack of specialised testing labs.

In 2004 the first death in winter (when the infection reaches its peak) occurred in December; this has led some to fear that this year the virus might be more virulent.

Last week, in Bac Giang province, several outbreaks in poultry were reported, Vietnam's first in three weeks, resulting in more than 10,000 poultry being culled.
WHO. WHO Director-General Lee Jong-Wook, who opened a three-day conference of world experts and political leaders in Geneva, said it was only a matter of time before an avian flu virus, most likely H5N1, acquired the ability to be transmitted from human to human.
"We don't know when this will happen, but we know it will happen," Lee said. "No society will be exempt."

It is impossible to say how long any pandemic would last and how severe it would be, but it has the potential to cripple the global economy. Still, Mr Lee believes that international cooperation might contain the outbreak.

The World Bank has in the meantime estimated that a pandemic might cost up to US$ 800 billion to the world economy.
China. Addressing a national televised conference, China's Health Minister Gao Qiang on Monday ordered health departments across the country to act quickly to prevent and control the human infection of bird flu.

His ministry has also invited the WHO to support the ongoing investigation of three cases in Hunan Province.

The WHO has welcomed Beijing's request for collaboration. Shigeru Omi, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, said that it is the first time that the Chinese government is seriously facing the problem, in part because of the danger of human contagion.

In Beijing raising and selling live poultry has been banned in the centre of the city.

Malaysia. Concerns are mounting after a second flock of pigeons was found dead in the country's north-west. Tests for the bird flu are underway. In January, Malaysia had declared itself free of bird flu.
Saudi Arabia. Veterinary authorities are conducting tests to determine whether poultry found dead in a farm in Surat Obaida, south-western Saudi Arabia were infected with the bird flu virus.

Russia. Authorities reported a case in the village of Ozero-Sosnovka near Cheliabinsk near the Urals. In a statement, Russia's Agricultural Ministry said the bird flu was present among fowl in 12 Russian villages, while there were suspected cases in nine other villages. (PB)

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