HANOI -- Bird flu has killed three people in Vietnam, the first deaths reported among humans from the disease since outbreaks in Asia early this year that killed 24 people and forced the slaughter of millions of birds.
Two of the recent deaths were children, a health official said yesterday.
All three victims tested positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus and died between July 30 and Aug. 3, said Trinh Quan Huan, head of the Ministry of Health's Department for Preventative Medicine and HIV/AIDS Control.
Two children, ages 4 and 1, died in Ha Tay Province about 30 miles west of Hanoi, while the other victim died in southern Hau Giang Province in the Mekong Delta, about 110 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City, he said. No details were available about the third victim or how the three were infected.
Hans Troedsson, head of the World Health Organization in Hanoi, said he was alerted about the findings yesterday and would meet with officials from the Ministry of Health today to discuss what steps should be taken.
He said the WHO would ask Vietnam to allow it to send samples to a laboratory abroad for testing. He will also ask that an outside team of epidemiologists be permitted to investigate.
''We're ready to send them when the government requests it," Troedsson said. ''What we'll also need to look at is getting more data around these cases."
Given that the deaths occurred in both the country's north and south, he said it's imperative that the entire country take precautions. But Troedsson said Vietnam is also much better prepared to handle the situation now than earlier this year.
''Based on experiences from the last outbreak, there are guidelines and instructions for both the public and also for health and animal professionals in place," he said. ''So I think there are now better prevention and control measures in place."
Early this year, bird flu spreadthrough Asia's poultry farms, and jumped to humans in cases that were mostly traced to direct contact with sick birds, killing 16 people in Vietnam and eight in Thailand. Health officials raised concerns about the illness mutating into a strain that could easily be passed among humans, but said there was no sign that had happened.
Millions of birds were slaughtered across Asia because of the earlier outbreak.
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung sent a telegram to government agencies and provinces yesterday, urging vigilance against the disease, Huan said.