From: Reuters
Published January 19, 2007 12:00 AM

Vietnam Bans Ducks Roaming to Stop Bird Flu Spread

HANOI -- Vietnam has ordered farmers to stop ducks from roaming in the Mekong delta where bird flu has struck more than half of the southern rice basket region in the past month as a harvest nears, a government minister said.

Thousands of ducks have died from the H5N1 bird flu virus in seven Mekong delta provinces in past weeks.

To complicate matters, not all ducks are killed by the virus, with some being infected without showing symptoms. The birds still excrete the virus in their droppings as they paddle through muddy rice paddies looking for insects and leftover grain.

"The movement of duck stocks in the Mekong delta fields is strictly prohibited until the epidemic comes to an end," Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat said in a directive seen on Thursday. "All ducks in infected communes should be kept inside."

Vietnam has had no human H5N1 cases since November 2005 but the virus that first hit the Southeast Asian country in late 2003 returned to the Mekong delta last month.

Animal health officials said H5N1 has killed nearly 19,000 poultry in the delta.

Thursday's Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper said 23 people who ate ducks that died from unknown causes in Bac Lieu province, one of the seven infected provinces, have been put under surveillance.

The government is anxious to stop bird flu spreading ahead of the Tet Lunar New Year festival in mid-February when poultry is part of the traditional feast.

Officials fear the disease could spread nationwide on the wings of migrating birds and movement of poultry, including smuggling of chickens and ducks from neighbouring countries.

Bird flu has killed 161 people out of 267 infections globally since 2003, World Health Organisation figures show. In Vietnam, the disease killed 42 between 2003 and 2005.

Experts fear the virus will mutate just enough to allow it to pass from human to human, causing a pandemic that could kill millions of people.

Source: Reuters

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