Cablegate: Avian Flu, in Viet Nam, Fall 2004 (Ai)

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: AVIAN FLU, in Viet Nam, FALL 2004 (AI)

1. (U) Summary. Poultry flocks in South East Asia, continue
to be infected with highly pathogenic Avian Influenza A
Subtype H5N1 (AI) with sporadic reports of human fatalities
both in Vietnam and Thailand. As the weather cools and the
humidity drops, the viability of the influenza virus
improves, such that the virus may remain active in the
environment for a longer period of time. Therefore, there
is still a threat for a severe outbreak of AI among poultry.
In addition, as long as people are in contact with live
poultry, some of which may have an unapparent AI infection,
the chance of human cases of AI remains of concern.
Avoidance of poultry markets, good hand-washing practices,
kitchen sanitation and thorough cooking of poultry and eggs
are common sense practices to follow. End Summary.

2. (U) In Vietnam, and likely most of Southeast Asia,
highly pathogenic AI, subtype H5N1 is endemic and is
circulating in the native and domesticated bird populations.
In many of the domesticated poultry populations,
particularly chickens, AI causes severe illness and death.
It is highly transmissible in flocks through the respiratory
tract via droplets or feces. Ducks appear not to have overt
symptoms, but are capable of shedding high virus loads
through feces. Highly pathogenic viruses can survive for
long periods in the environment, especially when
temperatures and humidity are lower.

3. (U) The Ministry Of Agriculture and Rural Development
continues to report destruction of poultry attributed to AI
infection throughout Vietnam. The majority of the
destruction is occurring in the southern provinces, although
there are reports from provinces in the north and in the
middle of the country.

4. (SBU) Recently, there have been public disagreements
between local media reports and GVN officials. Several
reports indicate fresh flare-ups of AI in southern Vietnam
but the GVN refuted the reports. This is unusual for a
country that has a controlled press. It indicates there is
uncertainty as well as unanswered questions concerning the
occurrence of AI infection.

5. (U) Since December 2003, Vietnam has reported 27
confirmed human cases of AI. Twenty have died. Twenty-three
cases occurred between December 2003 and March 2004. All of
the cases were under the age of 30, and approximately
equally divided between males and females.

6. (U) Seroprevalence studies of the general population for
antibodies to subtype H5N1 have not been conducted in
Vietnam. Therefore, it is not known how many individuals
have been infected but whose condition did not become severe
enough to be hospitalized, or, if hospitalized, were not
recognized as AI. Such studies, while important, may not be
feasible in Vietnam given limited laboratory capacity to
handle large numbers of samples.

7. (SBU) Evidence suggests very limited human-to-human
transmission of AI. Public health professionals suspect
transmission may be occurring only through close, sustained
contact with an infected individual. Two of five confirmed
family clusters suggest that transmission occurred not from
exposure to infected birds but, most likely, to an infected
individual. However, studies of health care workers who
cared for confirmed AI hospitalized cases suggest no
infection of the health care workers occurred. Thus,
statements recorded in the press, as `no evidence of human
to human transmission' should be regarded as optimistic, not

8. (SBU) According to scientists from the Influenza Branch
at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), samples received from the Ministry of Health through
summer 2004 indicated that the AI virus is stable and not
mutating or resorting to a more transmissible form for
humans. However, this does not mean that resortment at a
future date will not happen.

9. (SBU) Although the World Health Organization (WHO)
reports that most suspected human cases of AI are reported
to WHO, there appears to be some delay between suspicion of
a diagnosis and confirmation and release of the
confirmation. WHO reports that diagnostic capacity of
health care providers is limited to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh
City and there is no systematic laboratory confirmation of
suspected cases at the National Institute for Hygiene and
Epidemiology (NIHE) in Hanoi or the Pasteur Institute in Ho
Chi Minh City. This limited capacity and lack of
standardized diagnostic and laboratory confirmation
seriously discount the value of the available information to
increasing the understanding of the breadth and depth of
human AI infections in Vietnam.

10. (U) The CDC continues to caution travelers to avoid
visiting poultry farms and poultry markets, eat only well-
cooked poultry and eggs, and to avoid touching surfaces that
may have been contaminated by uncooked or live poultry.
Good public health practice also advises regular hand
washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand washes.

11. (U) In summary, as the weather cools and the humidity
drops in the northern provinces of Vietnam, the viability of
the AI virus improves, such that the virus may remain active
in the environment for a longer period of time. As a
result, there is still a threat for a severe outbreak of AI
among poultry. In addition, as long as people are in close
contact with live poultry, some of which may be inapparently
infected with AI, the chance of human cases of AI remains of


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