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FAO, WHO warn Vietnam to stay vigilant in H5N8 bird flu prevention

Thursday, March 04, 2021, 13:01 GMT+7
FAO, WHO warn Vietnam to stay vigilant in H5N8 bird flu prevention
A poultry farm in Hanoi, Vietnam April, 24, 2018. Photo: Reuters

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Vietnam urged both the Vietnamese government and public to remain vigilant in protective efforts against H5N8 human infection following the first confirmed cases of human transmission in Russia, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday.

Russian authorities have reported that seven poultry farm workers, aged 29 to 60, have been infected with the A(H5N8) strain of avian influenza, also known as bird flu.

All of the cases were asymptomatic.

According to the WHO, the group of seven are the first confirmed cases of the A(H5N8) strain making the jump to humans.

To date, there has been no evidence to suggest that severe human infection or human-to-human transmission of this virus has occurred and that this event likely represents an isolated spillover of the virus from infected chickens to humans.

Vietnam’s Department of Animal Health under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has yet to detect an H5N8 case in the country. 

Still, the department has announced plans to increase testing for H5N8 as part the national avian influenza surveillance program in 2021.

“Technically, the H5N8 virus shares antigenic characteristics of the H5N6 virus circulating in Vietnam," the FAO quoted Dr. Pawin Padungtod, senior technical coordinator of FAO Vietnam, as saying in its press release.

"The current avian influenza vaccine used in Vietnam should remain effective to prevent the disease in poultry.”

According to Dr. Satoko Otsu, team lead of WHO Health Emergency Program in Vietnam, the risk of human infection of this specific strain in the country is very low.

Despite the low risk, Dr. Otsu said people must remain vigilant and continue to practice personal protective measures against the avian flu.

Bird flu infections in humans are typically associated with direct contact with infected live or dead poultry.

“We should continue with our coordinated surveillance, both in the animal and human health sectors,” Dr, Otsu added. 

“The public can support us by reporting large-scale sickness or death at poultry farms as soon as possible and by practicing personal protective measures.”

Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5N8) have been reported in Russia, Europe, China, the Middle East, and North Africa in recent months, but only in poultry and wild birds.

Other strains of HPAI, such as H5N1, H5N6 and H7N9, have been transmitted to humans before.

HPAI H5N1 has killed 64 Vietnamese people since it first appeared in the country in 2003, according to the FAO.

No human deaths have been reported since 2014, but occasional outbreaks in poultry have caused the culling of many chickens and ducks.

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