New cases of the H5N1 virus — or bird flu — are being reported more frequently throughout Asia and the Mideast.
On Thursday, Vietnam confirmed its first human death resulting from the virus since April 2010. The fatality came just one day after neighboring Cambodia reported a bird flu death.
The 18-year-old Vietnamese man, who died on Jan. 11, was a duck farmer in the southern Mekong delta province of Hau Giang, according to Channel News Asia. Experts in the country are investigating whether the infection came from his flock.
In Cambodia, a 2-year-old boy from northwestern Banteay Meanchey province, died on Jan. 18 after contracting the virus. The child is thought to have been exposed to infected poultry, according to the World Health Organization.
Vietnamese authorities say that there is no need to be alarmed about the recent H5N1 reports.
“The bird flu situation is still within our control,” said Le Minh Hung, a doctor from the Health Department of Ho Chi Minh City. “Some healthcare teams have been sent to check on the situation in southern provinces.”
Since 2003, the disease has killed 340 people worldwide; 59 of those deaths have been in Vietnam and 17 in Cambodia. Other human bird flu cases have recently been reported in Indonesia, Egypt and China. Indonesia, which has been the hardest-hit by bird flu in recent years, last week reported its third fatal case in three months. Bird flu is most likely to occur in the winter months.
The WHO says that a worldwide bird flu pandemic in humans is a possibility:
The H5N1 AI virus remains one of the influenza viruses with pandemic potential, because it continues to circulate widely in some poultry populations, most humans likely have no immunity to it, and it can cause severe disease and death in humans. In addition to H5N1, other animal influenza virus subtypes reported to have infected people include avian H7 and H9, and swine H1 and H3 viruses. H2 viruses may also pose a pandemic threat.
Recent scientific experiments with bird flu deepen concerns about the possibility of a human bird flu outbreak. To try to better understand the virus, scientists in Wisconsin and the Netherlands have recently successfully mutated bird flu so that it can more easily spread among humans. Many health and government officials believe that in the wrong hands, the scientists’ discoveries could be used to spark a pandemic for terror purposes.