HANOI (Reuters) -Bird flu, which has killed 42 people in Vietnam, has spread to three more northern provinces as the government called for a meeting of Pacific Rim health officials to seek ways to prevent a human pandemic.
The Agriculture Ministry said on Friday outbreaks hit Phu Tho, Thai Binh and Hoa Binh provinces, with more than 3,400 chickens, ducks and geese found dead or slaughtered by health workers as tests showed the dead birds had the bird flu virus.
President Tran Duc Luong said he expected Asia-Pacific leaders meeting in Pusan to accept Vietnam”s call for the group”s health ministers to meet in Hanoi in 2006 to discuss measures such as vaccines and anti-viral drug production.
Dr Nguyen Thu Van, a researcher with the National Hygiene and Epidemiology Institute, said a human vaccine would be tested on up to 30 volunteers after the government and the World Health Organization approved the trial.
"Many people have telephoned here saying they were willing and ready to join the test," Van told Reuters Television.
The next step involves injecting up to 300 people.
"It would take at least three months for the clinical tests, including injecting and evaluating the results, so the tests would finish by the end of the first quarter in 2006," she said.
If all went well, mass production would start in the second quarter of 2006.
Van works for the National Hygiene and Epidemiology Institute. The center”s deputy head, Pham Ngoc Dinh, told Reuters on Wednesday the vaccine had been tested successfully in chickens and monkeys.
The vaccine is being made using cell culture technology, which involves taking a deactivated or weakened form of the virus from a patient who had died of bird flu.
The sample is then cultivated in monkey kidney cells, a process researchers at the institute say can produce the best results within the shortest time.
The H5N1 virus has now spread to 17 of Vietnam”s 64 provinces since returning in early October. Most of Vietnam”s affected provinces are in the cooler north and the virus seems to thrive during the winter.
The H5N1 virus is endemic in poultry in several countries in Asia and has killed 67 people since late 2003.
The Health Ministry said no human cases, suspected or confirmed, were recorded between October 24 and November 17. The latest bird flu death was of a 35-year-old man in Hanoi in late October.
The ministry statement did not mention five suspected cases, including two deaths, which state media reported in the past week.
But the virus has resulted in the death or slaughter of more than 657,000 birds in Vietnam since last month, even though about 60 percent of the country”s 220 million domesticated fowl has been vaccinated.
This week, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Danang stepped up mass culling to purge all poultry and pet birds.
The Agriculture Ministry said the total number of dead and slaughtered poultry in the infected areas and other cities reached nearly 900,000 since early October.
Prime Minister Phan Van Khai has pledged 1.3 trillion dong more to help contain the virus.
The Health Ministry plans a pandemic-like exercise in Hanoi on November 27 involving 1,100 health workers.
One hundred families will play patients while the health workers will rush "infected" people to hospital and clean up the environment.