Vietnam finds bird flu vaccine

Vietnam, hard hit by an epidemic that has killed 47 people in Asia and wiped out many millions of poultry has successfully tested a bird flu vaccine on monkeys and tests in humans could be only months away.

The Vietnamese researchers injected a vaccine based on weakened H5N1 bird flu virus into three monkeys early last month and three weeks later found the monkeys were healthy and had produced anti-bodies. They have repeated the process and expect results in the next two weeks, Nguyen Tran Hien, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, told Reuters.

The bird flu virus has killed 14 people since December; it is hoped a vaccine will be ready for testing in humans later this year. Testing on a small group of humans will begin in September. Researchers will need to go through several steps to ensure the safety of the vaccine before testing it on humans.

The Thai government is considering an American request that a U.S.-developed vaccine be tested on its people where outbreaks have occurred. Vietnam has a safe laboratory only designed for tests on humans and close cooperation with the World Health Organization would help local researchers challenge the virus by exposing the monkeys to infected poultry.

Experts said last month the effectiveness of a vaccine against a versatile and resilient virus if it mutated into a form that could jump easily jump between humans, their main fear, would trigger a pandemic which might kill millions of people in a world population with no immunity to it, would be limited.

The poultry virus has killed one man and infected three -- including a man and his younger sister -- in northern Vietnam this month, although fewer outbreaks have been detected in poultry. All these cases have factors related to slaughtering and eating poultry.

There is as yet no evidence of human-to-human transmission. A Cambodian woman who died in southern Vietnam in January might have caught it from her younger brother, whose body was cremated before it could be tested for the virus.

Almost all the Asian victims - 34 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and the Cambodian - have caught it from infected poultry. Bird flu kills more than 70 percent of those known to have been infected, but doctors say victims can be saved if they are diagnosed early.

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