June 30, 2005

Vietnam bird flu toll rises to 39

HANOI (Reuters) - A 73-year-old Vietnamese has died frombird flu, taking the country's toll to 39, 19 of them since thevirus returned in December, state-run media reported onThursday.

The Hanoi resident, one of four people infected by the H5N1virus being treated in hospital, died on Tuesday after beingadmitted on June 23, the Lao Dong newspaper quoted hospitalofficials as saying.

It gave no further details of the patient, and doctors atthe hospital could not be reached immediately for comment.

The Health Ministry said bird flu had infected 60 peoplesince it returned to Vietnam in December.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization repeated itswarning that the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form whichcould pass easily between people and cause a global pandemic.

"Because influenza viruses are inclined to changefrequently, WHO advises Vietnam and the rest of the world toremain vigilant in its influenza control efforts," the WHO saidin a statement.

"The risk of a pandemic remains, but with further researchand international collaboration, the possibility of lesseningits impact is a goal that may ultimately be realized," HansTroedsson, WHO Representative in Vietnam, said in thestatement.

The virus, which arrived in Asia in late 2003, has alsokilled 12 Thais and four Cambodians.

The Health Ministry has called on a campaign to raisepublic awareness and clean up the environment between now andDecember to combat the poultry virus, which seems to thrivebest in the winter but still jumps to humans in the hot months.

It said there was a high risk that outbreaks would turninto a large-scale epidemic in the winter.

The Agriculture Ministry said chickens would be vaccinatedin two provinces from Aug. 1 on a trial basis after the vaccinefor poultry had been tested successfully.