(dpa) - With bird flu outbreaks hitting four Vietnamese provinces and killing three people so far this year, the government has ordered officials to take stronger measures against bird flu, officials said Monday.
Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat sent an urgent message to provincial officials Sunday, according to the National Animal Health Department.
Phat reiterated warnings against eating sick birds and asked provinces to cull all sick poultry, disinfect poultry farms, ban the transport of poultry from infected areas and continue nationwide vaccinations against bird flu.
"The possibility that bird flu in poultry will expand on a large scale and that there will be more people infected with H5N1 is very high," the message said.
Bird flu outbreaks have occurred this year in poultry in the provinces of Thai Nguyen, Quang Binh, Long An and Quang Ninh, prompting local authorities to cull at least 12,500 chickens and ducks, according to provincial officials.
In the latest outbreak, more than 400 fowl died last week at a farm in Quang Ninh province, 150 kilometers east of Hanoi, according to Dao Duy Ai, director of the Animal Health Department of the province.
"Most of the poultry had not been vaccinated yet," Ai said. "We have culled all the remaining 400 ducks and chickens at the farm, disinfected the neighborhood and banned transport of poultry from the area."
He said the outbreak was very likely to expand to other farms, despite the measures taken.
The three humans killed by the H5N1 virus this year came from Tuyen Quang, Hai Duong and Ninh Binh procinces. No bird flu outbreaks in poultry have been detected in these provinces.
Local officials said last week that a 7-year-old boy from Hai Duong province, 50 kilometers east of Hanoi, had been infected with H5N1, but an officials confirmed Monday that tests on the boy showed that he was not infected.
"He is negative for H5N1, but is still being treated in a hospital in Hanoi for lung disease," said Dong Van Chuc, head of the Animal Health Department of Hi Duong province.
Bird flu has infected 104 Vietnamese people and killed 50 since it first appeared in the country in late 2003.
H5N1 mainly affects poultry and wild birds, but can infect humans who have close contact with sick fowl. Scientists fear that if it spreads unchecked, the disease could mutate into a form which could be transmitted between humans, leading to a worldwide pandemic that could kill millions.