National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology Director Nguyen Tran Hien spoke with Tin Tuc (News) newspaper about the health sector's efforts to prevent the spread of avian influenza from China.
There has been an outbreak of Avian influenza A/H7N9 in neighbouring China. What is your opinion about the risk of the disease entering Viet Nam?
One characteristic of avian influenza A/H7N9 is that the virus lived in healthy people (like the 7-year-old boy in Beijing) and was carried by birds (such as pigeons and quail in Shanghai) without showing disease symptoms. It poses a dangerous risk and is concern to the community.
Most of avian influenza A/H7N9 patients have had direct contact with poultry or the poultry market. China has identified avian influenza A/H7N9 virus in pigeons, quails and chickens.
However, knowledge on the main source of transmission and the scale and geographic coverage of the disease is still limited.
Authorities have reported five clusters of family patients infected with avian influenza A/H7N9 virus. However, it would not be easy for the disease to transmit from one human to another. This requires more research.
Some scientists believe that the virus has a high capability of transmitting between consanguineous (blood-related) people due to common genetic factors increasing contagiousness. In fact, similar cases have been reported in other avian influenza viruses, including avian influenza H5N1.
It is very difficult to detect the avian influenza A/H7N9 virus due to its low toxicity. In spite of this, the disease has developed quickly and claimed lives. Statistics show that most virus infection cases showed serious pneumonia with symptoms such as a fever, cough, breathing difficulties, viscera failure and even caused death.
In Viet Nam, the health ministry confirmed a very high risk of the A/H7N9 epidemic entering the country from China in the upcoming winter-spring seasons, especially with five A/H7N9 cases reported in neighbouring provinces of Guangdong, China. Moreover, we still haven't been able to get a handle on illegal poultry smuggling, especially ahead of the lunar new year festival.
Close monitoring and the early detection of the first case to contain spreading would be the most important task for the health sector. How has disease surveillance been undertaken in Viet Nam?
After receiving information about first avian influenza A/H7N9 in China, Viet Nam has carried out drastic measures to prevent the disease spreading into the country. Particularly, the health sector has actively strengthened surveillance of patients and serious pneumonia clusters suspected to be linked to the virus. This is happening in medical facilities and communities across the country.
We have also trained medical staff at the provincial and city level to recognise the symptoms of serious pneumonia. Serious cases are reported while samples are sent to preventive medical centres for testing and quick diagnosis.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has also rolled out its supervision plan relating to poultry diseases, especially avian influenza A/H7N9 virus. At the moment, Viet Nam has not yet detected the avian influenza virus in people or domestic fowls.
What should people do to protect themselves from avian influenza A/H7N9 and other seasonal flu during the seasons of Winter and Spring?
People should regularly wash their hands using soap. People should not raise and eat unfamiliar poultry or poultry products.
Food should be also cooked well to prevent the virus transmitting from fresh food to human hosts. People should immediately report sick or dead poultry to local authorities and veterinary units.
People showing flu symptoms including a high fever, cough, headache, breathing difficulties, especially those in direct contact with people returning from epidemic zones or ill and dead poultry, should urgently visit medical units for timely examination and treatment. — VNS