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Viet Nam Government and International Partners on High Alert for Avian Influenza A (H7N9) Ahead of Lunar New Year (Tet) 12/16/2014

Joint WHO - Ministry of Health - FAO - Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Developement statement 
         Hanoi, 28 January 2014 –Viet Nam’s Government and international organizations are on high alert as human cases of H7N9 surge in China, and preparations for the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday begin. A prime ministerial-level directive issued late last week has instructed all ministries and related institutions to intensify prevention and control measures to minimize the potential impact to human health, and limit economic losses to the poultry sector should the H7N9 virus surface in Viet Nam.

        “The upcoming Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday, during which both human travel and poultry consumption are set to increase significantly, is cause for real concern,” stated Minister of Health, Professor Dr Nguyen Thi Kim Tien and Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Cao Duc Phat. “The risk of exposure to avian influenza in both humans and poultry is higher during this period. Practicing good hygiene when buying and cooking poultry products is the most effective measure that people can take to protect their health. We confirm that poultry remains safe to consume as long as it is properly prepared and well cooked.”

         To date there has been no detection of H7N9 in Viet Nam in either humans or poultry.

         As of 28 January 2014, China has officially notified of a total of 244 cases of H7N9 infection in humans, including 56 deaths.

         In China, investigations continue to identify the exact source of infection, reservoir and mode of transmission of the H7N9 virus. To date, there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission and the likelihood of community-level spread of this virus is low.

         Viet Nam’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has activated all levels of the health system across the country and has enhanced surveillance to ensure early detection of initial influenza cases. National Influenza Centres in Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City are on standby to receive samples to diagnose H7N9 virus in humans.

         Hospitals and health care workers have been instructed to strengthen infection prevention and control measures and to report, and closely monitor patients with severe, acute respiratory infections. Medical facilities have been urged to prepare medications and equipment, and isolation wards in preparation for treating potential cases of H7N9.

         Lessons learned from China during the first wave of human cases of H7N9 in April 2013 demonstrated large financial losses to the poultry sector, even though the virus does not cause disease in poultry. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) has issued directives for implementing emergency control measures for all avian influenzas: H5N1, H7N9 and H10N8. MARD is working to step-up hygiene control at live bird markets and has strengthened its efforts to control illegal poultry trade at border crossings. These measures aim to lessen the potential impact to farmers, traders and the poultry industry.

         Jointly, MARD and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have collected and analysed more than 10,000 poultry samples as part of a targeted surveillance programme in the northern provinces of Viet Nam to monitor for H7N9 viruses in poultry. These have all tested negative for H7N9 virus.

         The World Health Organization (WHO), FAO, and partners are providing support to the MARD and MOH for surveillance, laboratory diagnostics and risk communication and continue to share available information with Viet Nam’s Government and international agencies.

         “WHO and FAO strongly support the latest prevention and control measures and the strong public awareness messages issued by Viet Nam’s Government in response to the threat of H7N9,” Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Representative and Mr Jong Ha Bae, FAO Representative stated jointly. “While H7N9 has not yet been found in Viet Nam, we urge extra vigilance during this holiday period in order to ensure that the Year of the Horse begins with good health, and safe, yet festive celebrations.”

         MOH and MARD have called on the public to follow precautionary measures which include frequent hand washing with soap and water, eating well cooked poultry products. While it is best to avoid visiting live bird markets, if this is inevitable, avoid direct contact or use proper protective equipment (gloves, mask, and protective clothes) with live poultry and the surfaces where they have come into contact.

         Information is still limited about the full spectrum of disease that the H7N9 virus might cause. Patients infected with H7N9 have had symptoms of acute respiratory infection that might progress quickly and severely, and likely leading to mortality. People who develop acute respiratory problems, fever, cough and shortness of breath should seek immediate medical attention.

For more information, please contact

WHO in Viet Nam

Ministry of Health

FAO in Viet Nam

Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development

Viet Nam Partnership for Avian and Human Influenza (PAHI)

General Department of Prevention Medicine, MOH Vietnam (Source: Website WHO)