Press Releases

    16 January 2004

    FAO Seriously Concerned about Spread of Avian Flu in East Asia

    South Korea, Viet Nam, Japan Affected -- Team of Experts Sent to Viet Nam

    ROME, 15 January (FAO) – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today expressed serious concern about the spread of Avian flu in East Asia.

    "The disease seems to have a regional dimension, with South-Korea, Viet Nam and Japan being affected in a short period of time", the FAO said in a statement.

    "Possible links between these outbreaks must be investigated.  If there are such links, the epidemiological reasons must be elucidated."

    Viet Nam declared an outbreak of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 in the southern part of the country last week.  The Office International des Epizooties (OIE) in Paris, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the FAO were immediately informed.

    Viet Nam rapidly applied appropriate control measures such as the killing of several hundred thousands of chickens, disinfection, quarantine, control of animal movements, and general surveys.

    New Outbreaks

    Despite these measures, the situation continues to give cause for concern, with possible new outbreaks in Viet Nam, the FAO said.  In addition, human cases of Avian flu have been confirmed.

    Avian Influenza is a very serious disease of domestic birds, particularly chickens and ducks.  It appears more and more frequently all over the world (in Hong Kong in 1997/1998, in the Netherlands and South-Korea in 2003).

    The virus reservoir is the bird wildlife and there is no method available to control it.

    The disease causes considerable economic losses, due to the bird mortality, mass killing of domestic birds and other control measures.  Outbreaks affect the livelihood of thousands of farmers relying on chicken production.

    Avian Flu and Humans

    Avian flu rarely affects humans.  To be contaminated, a direct contact between humans and birds is needed.  During an outbreak in Hong Kong in 1997, six deaths out of 18 cases occurred; in the Netherlands in 2003, 83 cases occurred and one person died.

    In Viet Nam so far, the authorities have declared 14 cases of severe respiratory disease in Hanoi, and 11 people have died.  Three of these cases were confirmed as Avian flu victims.

    There is still no evidence to date of human-to-human transmission, but this matter has to be treated very seriously, the FAO said.

    If the number of infected people increases, the probability of a new virus strain evolving from an exchange between human influenza and Avian flu genomes needs to be carefully examined.

    Prevention Comes First

    To stamp out the disease, all infected animals have to be killed.  In addition, disinfection, quarantine and a ban on the movement of domestic birds have to be put in place.

    People working on farms or participating in eradication programmes, such as the culling of sick birds, should avoid close contacts with the animals and should wear protective clothing.

    The FAO is sending an expert to Viet Nam, as requested by the Government, to join the WHO/FAO/OIE expert team to investigate the problem and to set up necessary control and rehabilitation measures.

    On a long-term basis, prevention relies on veterinary and human health surveillance, including an early warning and a rapid response.

    For more information, contact:

    Erwin Northoff, Information Officer, FAO,
    e-mail:, tel.:  (+39) 06 570 53105;
    FAO Newsroom:

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