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Bird flu death toll rises to 18 in Asia

Vietnamese officials on Friday confirmed the deaths of two more people from bird flu, bringing Asia’s overall total to 18.
An Indonesian farmer carries chickens at a poultry farm in the village of Bolangan, on Bali. The H5N1 bird flu virus strain has been confirmed in Indonesian chickens.Supri / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Vietnamese officials on Friday confirmed the deaths of two more people from bird flu, pushing up the country’s death toll to 13 and bringing Asia’s overall total to 18.

A 6-year-old girl from southern Dong Nai province who died Tuesday tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu, said Phan Van Tu, with Ho Chi Minh City’s Pasteur Institute.

In addition, a 24-year-old man from central Lam Dong province who died Monday was also confirmed as a bird flu victim, said Tran Tinh Hien, deputy director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Hospital for Tropical Diseases.

The man was the second victim from Vietnam’s Central Highlands region.

Vietnam now has seen a total of 17 cases in humans, 13 of whom have died. Two other patients have recovered and been released, while a 20-year-old woman and an 8-year-old girl remain hospitalized.

Vietnam has the highest number of human deaths from bird flu, which has also killed five people in Thailand. Millions of poultry have been infected in 10 Asian countries, and governments are grappling with ways to contain the deadly disease.

More than 14 million of Vietnam’s 250 million poultry have been slaughtered in the past month.

The avian influenza is highly contagious among birds and in some cases has jumped to humans.

Health officials believe the flu is contracted through direct contact with infected birds. Eating properly cooked meat and eggs is not believed to be a health risk.

There have been worries — but no evidence — that a new virus hybrid could develop and spread between people, creating a global pandemic.

The WHO is investigating the possibility of human-to-human transmission — the scenario feared most — in one infected family in Vietnam.

In the case of the 6-year-old girl, officials believe she was in contact with an infected bird.

Tran Nguyen Duc, director of the Preventive Medicine Department of Dong Nai province, said the girl’s family had been given a fighting cock by a neighbor as a gift before the Lunar New Year.

The cock died a day later, and the girl fell ill afterward. She checked into a private clinic before being admitted to the provincial children’s hospital. She was later transferred to Pediatric Hospital .1 in Ho Chi Minh City on Jan. 30, where she died Tuesday.

None of her family have come down with the disease, he said.

Duc said the girl was the first bird flu victim from southern Dong Nai province, Vietnam’s largest poultry producer with nearly 10 million chickens and ducks raised. Dong Nai is just outside Ho Chi Minh City.