Vietnam confirms bird flu outbreaks

Vietnam on Friday confirmed bird flu outbreaks among poultry in three northern villages, despite increased efforts to fight the disease, an official said.

More than 3,000 poultry died or were culled this week in three villages in the province, he said. Khoa said the provincial government has banned the transport of poultry to or from the three affected villages, which have been disinfected.

Villages that border the three villages have also been disinfected and poultry have been vaccinated to prevent the virus from spreading further, he said.

Hoang Van Nam, deputy director of the Animal Health Department, said department experts have been sent to the province to help fight the outbreaks and that the possibility of more infections is very high.

Officials are also concerned that the increased movement of people and poultry ahead of Lunar New Year festivities in early February could facilitate the spread of the virus.

Nam said the government has urged provinces to strictly apply necessary measures to quickly detect and stamp out the outbreaks.

Vietnam began vaccinating its poultry flocks in early August, but its deadline of completing the vaccination of 150 million birds by mid-November may be delayed by at least two weeks because of a shortage of vaccines imported from China.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai prohibited the sale of raw blood pudding made from ducks or geese and the raising of poultry in major urban areas. Vietnamese health officials have warned that the country could be a "hot spot" if a global flu pandemic occurs.

Bird flu has ravaged poultry farms in Asia since 2003, killing or forcing the cull of more than 100 million birds. It also jumped to humans, killing at least 62 in the region, the bulk of them in Vietnam.

Experts fear that the virus could mutate into a form that can easily be passed among people, possibly sparking a global pandemic in which millions could die.

So far, there have been no indications that the virus has changed and most of the human deaths have been traced to contacts with sick birds, AP reports.

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