What's Up, Doc? runs on our Health Page every Wednesday and features questions from our readers about their health concerns. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the past couple of weeks there have been several news items about the discovery of H5N1 and H3N2 in poultry, particularly in southern Viet Nam, and there have been some human deaths. Should we be worried about the influenzas and what precautions should we take?
Dave Watson, HCM City
Dear Mr Watson,
Influenza A virus subtype H5N1, also known as bird flu, is a dangerous influenza virus that causes viral pneumonia. It can be transmitted among poultry or from poultry to humans. The mortality rate among those infected with H5N1 is very high, at over 50 per cent. It develops very quickly over the course of one-to-two days and a patient could die within three-to-seven days. So far this year, three people have contracted the virus. Two victims from southern Soc Trang and Kien Giang provinces died and the most recent victim from southern Binh Duong Province was admitted to the HCM City Tropical Diseases Hospital last Friday and is currently in critical condition.
At this time, bird flu is reportedly affecting poultry in 11 provinces nationwide.
To prevent infection, food hygiene and safety should be a top priority. One should not drink the blood of chickens and ducks. Close contact with poultry suspected of being infected with the virus must be avoided.
H3N2, however, is not as dangerous. It is also a subtype of viruses that cause influenza, but affects birds and mammals as well. It can be transmitted by the respiratory route among humans.
So far only one person has contracted H3N2 in Viet Nam and the case was not severe. Precautions include limiting close contact with the infected and wearing a face mask if close contact becomes necessary.
Dr Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, Director of the HCM City Tropical Diseases Hospital
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