Vietnam seeks Chinese bird flu vaccines urgently

Other News Materials 4 July 2007 11:46 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Vietnam has sent officials on an urgent mission to China to buy 50 million doses of vaccine for poultry after two people died of the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Vietnam only has 15 million doses left, jeopardising a nationwide campaign to vaccinate waterfowl and chickens, Wednesday's Saigon Giai Phong (Liberation) newspaper quoted government officials as saying.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved an order to import 200 million doses of vaccine to stop the spread of H5N1.

International experts hailed a poultry vaccination programme and other measures Vietnam adopted from late 2005 as a model that helped keep the virus at bay. However, this year it has spread nationwide in birds and humans.

Five people have been infected by the virus since May, two of who have died, the first human casualties in the Southeast Asian country since November 2005.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed only the first two cases of infection, both in men who subsequently recovered.

"Bird flu is now on a declining trend in the northern region but in the southern region the risk of bird flu recurrence is extremely serious," Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat was quoted by the newspaper as saying at a government meeting on Tuesday.

The Animal Health Department said eight provinces and Haiphong city, all in the northern and central regions and which have detected bird flu outbreaks in poultry in the past month, remained on the government's watch list.

Globally, the H5N1 virus has killed 191 people out of 317 known cases, according to the WHO, while hundreds of millions of birds have died or been slaughtered.

The H5N1 virus remains mainly a virus of birds, but experts fear it could mutate into a form easily transmitted from person to person and sweep the world, killing millions.

This week the virus infected a wild bird in Germany and is suspected to have spread to swans in France, officials said.