An 18-year-old woman has died of bird flu in Vietnam bringing the death toll in the country since December to six yesterday, as Thailand confirmed outbreaks of the virus for the first time this year.
"The 18-year-old woman from Tien Giang province was the sixth H5N1 victim," health ministry spokesman Tran Duc Long told AFP. She died on Wednesday, 13 days after being admitted to a tropical disease hospital in Ho Chi Minh.
All six deaths were in southern Vietnam and the victims had all been in close contact with poultry, officials said.
The latest deaths take to at least 26 the number of people on record as having died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Vietnam since the end of 2003.
The real number of deaths is thought to be higher as tests were not carried out on some suspected cases.
Another 12 people have died in Thailand, where officials confirmed Thursday the first outbreaks this year of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, prompting authorities to declare a high alert throughout the country.
Thai scientists found the virus in 20 fighting cocks in the eastern province of Rayong, said Yukol Limlamthong, who is director general of the Livestock Development Department.
"Tests confirmed on January 10 that some 20 fighting cocks in two houses were infected," he said.
The 20 infected birds were all found in Klang district and have already been killed, he said.
A second outbreak was confirmed in Thailand's central province of Phitsanulok, where 50 locally bred chickens were confirmed to have the disease on Jan. 17, he said.
Both districts where bird flu was found were under a 21-day surveillance period, and no chickens could be taken in or out of the area, Yukol said.
Bird flu is now reported in one third of Vietnam's territory, or 21 out of 64 provinces and cities, with the culling of more than 331,000 poultry since the start of the year, according to the agriculture ministry.
Meanwhile, the first suspected human H5N1 case in the northern part of the country was reported in the capital Hanoi.
The case involved a 42-year-old man whose 45-year-old brother died of respiratory illness on Jan. 9. Results of a final test to confirm what the man was suffering from were due Thursday, the health ministry said.
The World Health Organization said it was awaiting confirmation from Vietnam's health authorities on the case.
"Vietnamese authorities are rechecking all the test results," WHO epidemiologist, Peter Horby, said.
"They are undertaking investigation on possible sources of infection," he said, adding that the WHO had asked Vietnam about the possibility of obtaining samples and sending them to WHO laboratories abroad.
Last year Vietnam was criticized for its slow response to the epidemic. This year the government seems to have been speedier in taking action, yet without being able to contain the disease.
In Hanoi, local authorities say they have applied tough measures to stop the spread of the virus. According to state media, 20 checkpoints have been established at city borders and on highways and 30 at markets.
"Our policy is to establish checkpoints at city borders to control the transportation of poultry into the city," an agricultural expert from Hanoi's People Committee told AFP.
"We allow only quarantined chickens to be sold in the capital," said the unnamed expert.
However, in several of the capital's markets, live chickens with no quarantine certification could be found easily.