HANOI, Apr 6 (Reuters) Vietnam has found the bird flu virus in chickens smuggled from China, the first case in poultry since December, officials said today.
The state-run Vietnam Economic Times newspaper reported that Animal Health Institute tests confirmed the presence of the H5 virus component in chickens seized in the northern border province of Lang Son, 154 km north of Hanoi.
It was not immediately known if the virus was the deadly H5N1 strain that has killed over 100 people in parts of Asia and the Middle East since 2003.
Institute officials could not be reached for comment but a provincial official said smuggling was tough to prevent.
''The smugglers come in small groups and by various small ways so it's been difficult to stop all of them,'' an anti-smuggling taskforce official said by telephone from Lang Son, which borders Guangxi province in southern China.
The newspaper said further bird flu tests were under way on samples taken from 40 smuggled chickens seized in Quang Ninh province, which also borders China.
Densely populated Vietnam has the highest number of infections and deaths from the H5N1 virus of any country but has won acclaim for its efforts to halt the disease.
It has not recorded a human case of avian flu since November 2005 and has fought the disease by a series of measures, including vaccinations of 240 million ducks and chickens last year.
The World Health Organisation has confirmed 42 deaths in Vietnam since avian flu struck Southeast Asia in late 2003 out of a worldwide toll of at least 108.
Hoang Van Nam, deputy head of the Agriculture Ministry-run Animal Health Department, said poultry smuggling from China posed a serious threat to public health.
This week Vietnam increased border control measures to prevent a resurgence of bird flu, but officials said the work was not always a success.
Vietnamese northerners join the lucrative illegal trade of chickens over the border with China because they can sell the birds in Vietnam at 10 times their buying price.
State media said officials seized around 20,000 chickens, 126,000 eggs and 1,000 ducks trafficked into Lang Son and Quang Ninh in March alone. They gave no comparative figures.
Reuters SHB DB1001