HANOI, June 29 (Xinhuanet) -- After spending one week in Vietnam studying bird flu, a WHO-coordinated international team of experts detected little change in the virus strain H5N1, concluding that there are no increased levels in the efficiency of transmission of the disease either from poultry to human or from human to human.
"We did not find any indications to show that the H5N1 virus is extending its range in humans, though clearly it retains that capability should it change," said Hitoshi Oshitani, team leader and regional advisor on communicable disease surveillance and response of the World Health Organization (WHO), who was quoted in a press release by the organization's representative in Vietnam on Wednesday.
However, the WHO advises Vietnam and the rest of the world to remain vigilant in their bird flu control efforts, as flu viruses are inclined to change frequently.
The team of experts from Australia, Canada, Chinese Hong Kong, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States recommended that the Vietnamese government increase its surveillance of bird flu inboth the animal and human health sectors, primarily by strengthening its laboratory capacity and epidemiological data collection.
Specifically, they suggested that future samples from suspectedcases be shared with a WHO reference laboratory outside Vietnam for external, independent confirmation as well as for quality assurance.
"Vietnam has a crucial role to play in monitoring avian influenza and its implications for global public health. The risk of a pandemic remains. But with further research and internationalcollaboration, the possibility of lessening its impact is a goal that may ultimately be realized," Hans Troedsson, WHO Representative in the country, was quoted in the press release.
A recent report by Vietnam's Health Ministry said that laboratory tests in the country have indicated that the antigen structure of H5N1 is changing. The mutation makes it more difficult for health agencies to identify high-risk areas, since poultry infected with H5N1 with a change in the antigen structure do not exhibit the disease's symptoms, said the report.
Early this week, the ministry confirmed that 60 people from Vietnam's 23 localities had been infected with H5N1 since late December 2004, of whom 18 died. Since the first bird flu patient was detected in Vietnam in late 2003, the country had detected 87 human cases of infections, including 38 fatalities, in 31 cities and provinces, said the ministry. Enditem