Vietnam: "Eat chicken, you die."
- [EXCERPT: But Yen, an 80-year-old woman who sells joss sticks and
other non-food items, disagrees. ...Wagging a stern finger she warns:
"If you eat chicken, you die. Here. Now."]
Vietnam Bird Flu Puzzle Has Many Missing Pieces
By Brian Williams
Thu Apr 28, 2005
The Hanoi Hilton's club sandwich no longer features chicken.
The chief bird flu fighter in the northern Thai Binh province, where
a cluster of human cases has caused concern, is trying to stop
chickens from crossing the road to reach -- and infect -- the other
A survivor in the province swears never again to eat fowl.
But a longtime chicken seller can't understand what the fuss is all
about and the elder sister of another survivor ate chicken in Hanoi
while her brother struggled for life on a respirator.
There are as many bird flu voices in Vietnam at the moment as the
cackling and crowing of the millions of fowl -- chickens, ducks,
geese, quail -- that dot the land and rice paddy fields.
After 15 deaths in Vietnam since December 2004 out of 41 patients
stricken in that period by the H5N1 bird flu virus, chicken is mainly
off the menu and under the microscope.
Since the disease first hit Asia in late 2003, killing since then a
total of 36 Vietnamese, the communist nation has reported a total of
68 human infections among a population of 82 million.
In the same time, 12 Thais and four Cambodians have also died of the
virus including a 20-year-old Cambodian woman who was a rushed to a
hospital in Vietnam last week.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says the virus could mutate into
a form that could pass easily between humans and cause a worldwide
pandemic in which millions could die.
Doctor Pham Van Diu, director of the Center of Preventive Medicine in
Thai Binh, 68 miles southeast of Hanoi and the site of three bird flu
"cluster" outbreaks this year, is in the front line of the battle.
Diu, who has worked in the Red River Delta province since 1984,
seeing it safely through such scourges as bubonic plague, cholera,
polio and dengue fever, admits he is perplexed.
"It is a big jigsaw puzzle and there is not just one piece missing
but many pieces missing," he says.
Why do people who slaughter chickens, and would seem most at risk,
seem immune? Why does the flu seem to strike mainly within families?
Why have there been no foreigners among the stricken?
"When it first appeared we thought it was SARS," he said. "But it
didn't follow rules of past diseases like many victims, more dead, as
well as less time and space between outbreaks."
He says strict measures to control movement of poultry, isolation of
cases and public awareness allowing early diagnosis have helped
Vietnam control the spread for the moment.
Diu said last year 1.5 million birds were slaughtered in a cull of
the sick. In the first three months of this year, only 15,000 have
Peter Horby, a medical epidemiologist with the WHO in Hanoi, gives
Vietnamese authorities high marks for most measures they have taken.
But he warns: "We need to resolve the mystery of bird flu, not just
contain it and learn to live with it."
He said the number of outbreaks dotted around Vietnam shows bird flu
is still "entrenched" in various parts of the country.
Horby fears the day when 20 people come down with bird flu on the
same day and in several different locations.
"But we are not there yet," he says.
Ha, a 50 year-old seller of live chickens in a Thai Binh city market,
scoffs at a bird flu threat.
"If there is a threat, why haven't any people like me been sick," she
asks, thrusting her face into the wire mesh of a cage containing 20
Like other people in the market, Ha only gave her first name saying
she had sold chicken for 15 years, carrying on a livelihood started
by her parents who also had never been ill.
"If you don't eat sick chicken and if you cook the chicken well,
there is nothing to fear," she says.
At another stall, Huyen, who sells slaughtered chickens, says her
daily sales this year are less than half the 50 she used to sell.
"If you only sell healthy chicken, you never die," she says, while
admitting that she now buys her birds also from other provinces,
rather than just Thai Binh.
But Yen, an 80-year-old woman who sells joss sticks and other
non-food items, disagrees.
Wagging a stern finger she warns: "If you eat chicken, you die. Here. Now."
Nguyen Thi Ngoan, 14, is back at school this month, a survivor, like
her 21-year-old brother and 81-year-old grand father, of bird flu.
The family lives in Thai Binh province's Ho Doi 2 hamlet, about an
hour's drive from the provincial capital.
She spent nearly three weeks in the hospital, catching the flu
several days after her brother was stricken in January. The pair,
along with their grandfather, had eaten chicken together.
The grandfather was diagnosed with the flu but never showed its
outward symptoms of fever and a shivery cold.
"I will never eat chicken again," Ngoan says. "Once near death is
enough. I also don't like some mean schoolmates calling me bird flu
Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited.