Fears of deadly outbreak as avian flu kills infected man in Vietnam

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The Independent Online

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the spectre of human-to-human transmission of deadly avian influenza following confirmation that two Vietnamese brothers had contracted the virus and one had died.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has raised the spectre of human-to-human transmission of deadly avian influenza following confirmation that two Vietnamese brothers had contracted the virus and one had died.

The WHO confirmed that laboratory results had found the two brothers from northern Vietnam had been infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The older one, a 47-year-old, died on 9 January. The younger one, 42, is recovering. The WHO said transmission probably occurred during a family meal when raw duck products were eaten.

"As a precautionary measure, similar culinary practices involving dishes containing raw poultry parts or organs should be avoided in all countries experiencing outbreaks," the WHO said.

The virus has killed 27 people in Vietnam and 12 in Thailand over the past year, and experts fear it appears to be evolving in ways that increasingly favour the start of a deadly human influenza outbreak. The situation "may resemble that leading to the 1918 pandemic", which killed more than 40 million people, the WHO said.

What the WHO fears most is that the virus could mutate if it infected a person sick with ordinary flu, or got into an animal hosting a human flu virus, such as a pig.

If the H5N1 were to merge with a human flu virus, it could produce a strain capable of sweeping through a human population without immunity, possibly killing millions worldwide.

The WHO warned the bird flu virus was now endemic in Asia and it appeared to be evolving in ways that increasingly favoured the start of a deadly human outbreak.

It had become "hardier" and evidence also suggested it was expanding its range of mammal hosts, including cats.

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