Sun, Apr 17, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Vietnam warns of the dangers of ducks


Ducks play a dangerous role in spreading the deadly bird flu in Vietnam, which has killed at least 36 people in the country, the top Vietnamese veterinary official warned in a report published yesterday.

In an interview with Tuoi Tre newspaper, Bui Quang Anh, director of the Agriculture Ministry's animal health department, said the longtime tradition of farmers allowing ducks to roam freely in the rice fields is creating a public health hazard.

"In a situation where bird flu outbreaks are still in danger of spreading, it's very dangerous to allow ducks to roam freely in the Mekong Delta," Anh said.

That specific issue will top the agenda during a key government meeting by the national steering committee on bird flu Monday, Anh said. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung is scheduled to attend the meeting, where the government will introduce specific measures to combat the disease.

Earlier this week, animal health officials said random samples taken from about 10,000 ducks and geese in poultry farms across the southern delta showed that some 71 percent of them were infected with the potent H5N1 virus. About 21 percent of chickens sampled also tested positive.

The widespread presence of the avian influenza in waterfowl is particularly alarming because the birds can carry the virus without becoming ill themselves.

The deadly bird flu has killed a total of 51 people so far in Asia -- 36 in Vietnam, 3 in Cambodia and 12 in Thailand.

Most of the infected cases have been traced back to contact with sick birds but experts worry that the longer the virus remains in the environment, the greater the chance that it will mutate and allow for easy, human-to-human transmission. If that happens, it could set off a global pandemic that would claim millions of lives.

There are nearly 20 million ducks and geese in the region and more than half of them would have to be slaughtered to contain the disease. However, farmers have resisted local government orders to kill their flocks because of lost income.

Anh said he believes culling infected ducks would be extremely difficult to do for a number of reasons.

"I personally think culling all ducks will be very difficult," he said. "Perhaps because of the low compensation and other related issues, farmers are not willing to do it.."

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