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Vietnam Bird Flu Death a Call for Action, Say Experts

risk hasn't gone away."

"People get very bored very quickly," he added. "We can get the farmer to come in once or twice, but the third time he may see that it's not much of a priority anymore. He may not bother, or he may bring in 50 ducks and not bother to notify the authorities that there's another 150 (needing vaccination) still in the field." Ducks and other waterfowl, which can carry and spread the virus without showing symptoms themselves, have been the major source of infections in the latest wave of outbreaks, Vietnam's fifth since 2003.

Flocks of ducks roving across rice paddies and ponds are a traditional, iconic feature of the Vietnamese countryside. After the lifting of the ban, they have come back in great numbers following the northern rice harvest. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last week ordered the agriculture ministry to map out immediate and long-term action plans to fight bird flu, concentrating on vaccinating Vietnam's 70 million ducks and culling all sick animals.

Experts warn that H5N1 survives both in the respiratory system and the gastro-intestinal tract of birds -- meaning farms, markets and slaughterhouses have to be vigilant about hygiene and biosecurity. Vietnam, once the country worst affected by H5N1, was hit by three waves of avian influenza in 2004 and 2005, when 42 people were killed and authorities culled more than 50 million head of poultry. No new outbreaks were reported for 12 months, until fresh infections last December led authorities to cull 45,000 poultry.

Sporadic outbreaks have been reported since February, but cases picked up sharply in May. Worldwide, bird flu has killed 191 people out of 313 infected patients, says the WHO, which has not yet confirmed Vietnam's latest human cases. Experts fear the death toll would rise sharply if the virus were to mutate and become easily transmitted between humans. A flu pandemic in 1918, just after the end of World War I, kill
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