Thursday, February 23, 2012

Vietnam struggles to fight HFMD, H5N1 flu

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Health Ministry’s Preventive Health Department has asked all local authorities to set up steering boards for epidemic prevention and control to combat Hand, Foot and Mouth disease and H5N1 avian flu that have spread rapidly and killed 11 children so far.

A child with HFMD being treated at the Obstetrics-Pediatrics Center in central Da Nang City on February 22, 2012, Photo: Tuoi Tre

At yesterday’s meeting on epidemic control, Nguyen Van Binh, head of the department, said local authorities should not wait to set up an interdisciplinary board until 24 hours after the declaration of epidemic as currently regulated, since such a delay will affect the efficiency of the fight against the diseases, he said.

The Health Ministry yesterday sent messages to chairpersons of the People’s Committees of provinces and cities asking them to prepare enough manpower, supplies and finances to cope with the epidemics.

Members of the local steering boards must be assigned to specific tasks to prevent and control the epidemic effectively.

The boards should advise all families to ensure hygienic conditions for children’s eating, drinking and playing. It is necessary to keep children’s toys clean and practice regular hand washing among children and their caretakers, the Health Minister said in the messages.


Veterinary workers in Quang Tri Province prepare to burn ducks that have contraced the H5N1 flu virus (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

Rapid spread

The department reported that 6,328 HFMD cases had occurred in 60 of the country’s 63 provinces and cities during the first 6 weeks of the year, killing 9 children, and that the ratio of death to total HFMD cases in the period was 0.14 percent, equal to that in 2011, the year with the worst-ever HFMD epidemic.

This year’s epidemic may be more severe than that of last year, since it has broken out sooner - in January-February instead of April or May as in 2011, the department warned.

Meanwhile, after 20 months with no cases of humans contracting the H5N1 flu virus, the disease has re-occurred and spread to 12 provinces and cities so far, affecting 2 people in southern Kien Giang and Soc Trang provinces. Both have died.

Bac Ninh province is the latest that has been affected by the disease, following 11 other localities, including Thanh Hoa, Quang Tri, Ha Nam, Ha Tinh, Quang Nam, Hai Duong, Hai Phong, Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Soc Trang and Kien Giang, the Veterinary Department reported.

Vien Quang Mai, vice rector of Nha Trang city-based Pasteur Institute, states that the HFMD cases have increased in all central provinces, especially in Khanh Hoa and Binh Dinh, and killed a people in Da Nang city.

Compared to the same period last year, the number of affected localities this year has increased by three, said Dang Van Ky, head of the department’s Epidemiology Division.

Ky forecast that the number of HFMD patients this year may be the same as last year (110,000 cases), but the death toll may be lower, since there is now a new treatment regimen for the disease.


Health workers spray antiseptic to prevent the spread of H5N1 flu virus (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

Flu vaccine not highly effective

Ky warned that the H5N1 avian flu has evolved to have sub-clade 2.3.2, which itself developed into two types A and B, in which the former is three times more dangerous than the latter. Meanwhile, the H5N1-Re 5 vaccine, which has been used to vaccinate poultry in the country for the past several years, has been found too weak to cope with the sub-clade.

In addition, a survey of 30 provinces and cities showed that the average proportion of poultry bearing the H5N1 virus was 4.13 percent, with Ha Tinh taking the lead with 18 percent. These rates were far higher than those of last year, when the average rate was just 1.6-2 percent and the highest was not more than 6 percent.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which has asked the Finance Ministry to facilitate the import of 50 million doses of H5N1-Re 5, has therefore forecast that the country might suffer a large bird flu epidemic this year.

Ky also warned that in the past four years, the rate of mortality among H5N1 flu cases was 100 percent, while in the previous period, the rate was just 50 percent. This situation proves the virus has evolved to be more dangerous.

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