Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Vietnam Wary Of H7N9


Photo Credit – FAO




Between having a long, porous border with China, the proliferation of illicit cross-border poultry trade, and lying in the central Asia Migratory bird flyway, Vietnam has repeatedly found itself on the receiving end of China’s expanding avian flu problem. 


First in 2003, when H5N1 found its way into Vietnam’s poultry population – followed by the arrival of new clades in the years that followed – and most recently with H5N6, which turned in Northern Vietnam only months after emerging in China and Laos.


So it is little wonder – with China’s H7N9 epidemic season about to begin – that Vietnam is fretting openly about the possibility of having to battle bird flu on three viral fronts (H5N1, H5N6 & H7N9). 


Making matters worse – unlike H5N1 and H5N6 – H7N9 is asymptomatic in birds, and often is only detected when humans in contact with poultry fall ill.


A month ago, the FAO issued a pointed warning on H7N9 in a report called:


Fourth wave of H7N9 avian influenza threatens livelihoods, public health

Countries urged to prepare for expected increase in virus activity

15 October 2015, Rome – Raising the alarm for poultry-related livelihoods and public health, FAO warned countries today that a fourth wave of avian influenza H7N9 has already begun.

(Continue . . . )


Which likely explains why the Vietnamese press has been filled with cautionary stories this week, all warning of the risks of H7N9.   One example of many, follows:


Health sector warns of A (H7N9) virus risk

HA NOI (VNS) — The Preventive Medicine Department confirmed that risk of disease spreading across borders is very large while human infections with a new avian influenza A (H7N9) virus being reported from China.

The country needs to properly implement preventive measures to avoid the disease because sale, exchange and travel between the two countries is very complex, especially illegal trafficking in poultry, a representative form the department warned yesterday.

To proactively prevent disease, the Ministry of Health has recommended that people should wash their hands with soap, ensure good personal hygiene, and limit their contact with patients. They were also advised to not use poultry or poultry products with unknown origins, and ensure food safety.

People were told to immediately notify the local authorities and veterinary units if they detected any sick or dead poultry.

In particular, people who return from areas where there is an epidemic must apply preventive measures, and report their health status to local health authorities to be monitored. People should visit doctors to be counselled, examined and receive treatment if they have flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, chest pain or difficulty breathing.

The World Health Organisation has recommended that tourists who travel to countries with such an epidemic should not be near areas where there are slaughter houses, and should stay away from poultry or avoid contact with live poultry and poultry sold in markets.

They should also not touch material contaminated by faeces of poultry or livestock. People with symptoms of acute respiratory infections while travelling or just returning from areas with an epidemic should visit a doctor for an examination and to determine the disease.

Influenza A (H7N9) is a respiratory illness in humans. The disease progresses rapidly and has a high mortality rate as there is no vaccine and no specific treatment. — VNS


A decade ago Vietnam was the world’s hotspot for human H5N1 cases, reporting 90 cases and 39 deaths over a 2 year period (2004-2005). Through aggressive culling, poultry vaccination, and public education – by 2006  they had become the `poster child’ for successful bird flu eradication and containment, chalking up zero cases in 2006 


Since then, Vietnam has managed to keep human cases down to the low-to-middle single digits each year.  So far, they’ve gone all of 2015 without reporting a human avian flu case.

But with an ever increasing roster of bird flu threats, they know all too well how short lived these victories can be, and that constant vigilance is required if these threats are to be contained.