January 8, 2009

Sister of Vietnam Bird Flu Patient Likely Died of Same Virus

The younger sister of a Vietnamese teen who was the nation's first confirmed avian flu death this year also died last week after suffering similar symptoms of an H5N1 virus infection.

Both girls had eaten chicken and duck raised on the family farm.

Truong Thi Mau, director of the Ba Thuoc district hospital, said the girl likely died from bird flu.

"We suspect that it was bird flu that caused her death," Mau told Reuters in a telephone interview from Ba Thuoc, about 100 miles south of Hanoi.

"But we can't be 100 percent sure because there was no sample for tests. At the time we thought her illness was something else."

Vietnamese authorities said earlier this week that the younger sister of the first avian flu victim was in the hospital with an H5N1 virus infection.  The initial victim, a 13-year-old girl, was admitted to the hospital with a high fever and severe cough on December 25, and died on January 2.

After doctors confirmed her 8-year-old sister was also infected with H5N1, anxious parents in the area nearby brought in nearly 50 children with similar symptoms for avian flu tests.  However, all tested negative, Mau said.

Out of six reported H5N1 infections in 2008 in Vietnam, five people died from the virus.  All occurred in the northern part of the country during the first three months of the year, when cooler temperatures provide an environment for the virus to thrive.

Worldwide, the H5N1 strain has killed 247 of the 391 confirmed cases since 2003, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Prior to Vietnam's latest case, the WHO said the nation had experienced 106 human infections.  Among the 15 nations with confirmed human cases, Vietnam was second only to Indonesia.

Elsewhere, authorities in China reported this week that a 19-year-old woman died of H5N1 after coming into contact with poultry.  On Thursday, Chinese state media quoted a spokeswoman for the Beijing Health Bureau, Deng Xiaohong, as saying the city's bird flu alert would likely be discontinued by January 12 as long as those who had contact with the victim did not fall sick themselves.

The Chinese agriculture ministry said Thursday that it had not found any bird flu cases amongst poultry in Beijing or the surrounding areas where the woman had died.

However, Deng said that additional suspected human cases could not be discounted, and officials had designated two city hospitals to treat any bird flu patients.

"At present there is no biological basis for human-to-human transmission, so there is almost no possibility of human-to-human transmission in Beijing. I hope everyone in the city can rest easy," the state media quoted Deng as saying.

While the H5N1 virus primarily affects birds, experts worry it might mutate to a more easily transmittable form, which might ignite a pandemic that could kill millions.

Vietnamese authorities have confirmed outbreaks among poultry in two areas near Hanoi, including Ba Thuoc.  Roughly 8,000 poultry were slaughtered to prevent the virus from spreading.


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