updated 8/16/2004 10:03:28 AM ET 2004-08-16T14:03:28

Vietnam has detected seven confirmed and possible bird flu infections in humans so far, but is concerned about more cases cropping up among its scattered small farms, a health ministry official said on Monday.

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Three of the victims in those cases, two children among them, died of bird flu, the government announced last week.

The third, a 25-year-old woman from the southern province of Hau Giang, has been preliminarily identified as infected with H5N1, the same strain of bird flu that killed 24 people in Asia  this year, including 16 in Vietnam and eight in Thailand.

Tests on the two children, both from the northern province of Ha Tay outside the capital Hanoi, are continuing to check if they also have the H5N1 influenza subtype, Nguyen Van Binh, deputy director of the health ministry’s general department of preventive medicine and HIV/AIDS control, told Reuters on Monday.

“We are now continuing the test on N1,” he said, referring to the two-part test on the virus that has identified the H5 component.

Coughing, high fever and sore throat are typical symptoms of bird flu in humans. Death usually occurs within days.

Two people from the province of Hau Giang suspected to have died of bird flu could not be tested because their bodies had been disposed of before samples were taken, Binh added.

WHO Vietnam representative Hans Troedsson said the situation did not appear alarming for now. “So far, it’s only a limited number,” he told Reuters. “For the moment it doesn’t look to be the same dimension as in February.”

Vietnam has agreed in principle to accept WHO experts and permit the U.N. health agency to test samples from suspected human victims at its laboratories, he added.

Scattered hot spots
The communist country had declared the bird flu vanquished at the end of March, but the disease, highly contagious among birds, reignited in the past month, prompting the cull or death of 33,847 poultry since July 9.

Asked if the outbreak was under control, Binh said: “It’s a concern because the bird flu disease happens on a scattered basis in small families,” noting that most Vietnamese farmers raise poultry for food.

About 80 percent of Vietnam’s population of 81 million lives in the countryside, providing a myriad of potential virus “hot spots” spread across a large area.

“The characteristics of this disease are difficult to deal with. We have some localities where the disease has not been fully treated, so the virus still exists,” Bui Quang Anh, director of the animal health department of the agriculture ministry, told reporters on Monday.

The latest recurrence was on a smaller scale than the initial outbreak earlier this year, he added.

Thailand, China and Indonesia have also reported fresh cases of bird flu in poultry in recent weeks, sparking new fears the illness could sweep across Asia just months after a mass culling campaign in which tens of millions of poultry were destroyed.

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