Bird flu kills girl, 10

A 10-year-old girl from southern Vietnam became the 12th person to die of bird flu in a month, health officials said today, as authorities took precautions to keep the disease from spreading during the upcoming Lunar New Year festivities.

The girl from Long An province died on Sunday night after surviving about a week in critical condition on a respirator, said a hospital doctor in Ho Chi Minh City.

A dozen people have died of bird flu in Vietnam since December 30, raising concerns that the disease could be re-emerging after an outbreak last year spread to 10 Asian countries, forcing the slaughter of more than 100 million birds.

The disease, which jumped to humans in Vietnam and Thailand, has killed 44 people in the past 12 months but has subsided elsewhere in the region.

In the latest case, the young girl developed a high fever and coughing three weeks ago after helping her family bury dead chickens found in her village, said Ngo Van Hoang, director of Long An provincial Preventive Medicine Centre.

Tests also were being carried out to see if a Cambodian woman who died on Saturday at a hospital in southern Vietnam had the virus, a doctor said. Her family also said she was admitted with bird flu symptoms after dead poultry was found in her village.

Bird flu outbreaks have been reported across the country, killing or forcing the cull of nearly 1 million birds in 31 out of 64 provinces in Vietnam since the start of this year.

In an effort to halt its spread, Hanoi was to begin operating a centralised slaughterhouse at the city’s largest poultry market, said an official at Long Bien market.

While demand for chicken and other fowl usually surges ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which starts February 9, sales have dropped by nearly 50% in the last two weeks, he said.

“Normally, poultry traders have very good business at this time of the year,” he said. “But this year, many people just stay away from poultry fearing for their health.”

Health experts have warned that the bird flu virus could spread further during the holiday due to colder temperatures and the increased movement of poultry.

Authorities have yet to ban the sale and transport of poultry as they did last year, but they have ordered the confiscation and destruction of poultry that have not received health certificates.

The Department of Animal Health issued nationwide guidelines last week telling people involved with slaughtering fowl to wear protective gear such as masks and gloves.

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