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Killer Bird Flu Fuels Plague Fears

New Worldwide Flu May Be Brewing in Asia
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What's Happened This Year -- so Far continued...

Since last October, hospitals in the Hanoi region admitted 14 people with severe respiratory illness -- 13 children and one adult. Eleven have died, including the mother of one of the deceased children. She -- and two of the children -- died of an H5 bird flu.

The good news is the WHO recently reported the flu from these people is still entirely a bird flu. That is, it hasn't picked up any new genes that would let it spread from human to human.

"There are lots of other cases under investigation," the WHO's Cheng says. "We have a team on the ground in Vietnam, and our office in Hanoi and our regional office in Manila sent people yesterday. We are working very closely with the Vietnamese authorities."

Members of the WHO team are from the U.S. CDC, the CDC's Brammer confirms.

Shimshony says there have been unconfirmed reports that the H5 virus has been detected in pigs. That would be a concern, because pigs -- unlike birds -- can also carry human flu viruses.

"Going through pigs could make it become as lethal as bird flu is for poultry and as infectious as human flu is for people," Shimshony says. "This would be very worrisome. But this has not happened yet. There has been no reassortment of this virus, so this virus is strictly avian. Still, the longer it goes on with many people getting infected, the closer our fears are to becoming actual."

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