Vietnam announced plans to close two wild bird sanctuaries to the public, as officials said the northern port city of Haiphong has become the 10th city or province to be hit with bird flu this season. The bird sanctuaries, in Tram Chim National Park and the Gao Giong ecological tourist zone, have been ordered off-limits to tourists, said Nguyen Be Hien, director of the southern province of Dong Thap's provincial animal health department.
The wetland areas are home to hundreds of thousands of wild birds, Hien said, and Tram Chim park is on the migratory route of redheaded cranes.
Officials will be closely monitoring the birds in the two parks for any signs of the bird flu, Hien said. Dong Thap province is 240 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Ho Chi Minh City.
Migrating birds are believed to have carried the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu from Asia to the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Scientists fear the strain could mutate into a form that can be easily passed from human to human, sparking a pandemic.
On Monday, the northern port city of Haiphong reported its first outbreak this season when 1,000 poultry at four farms got sick and died, said Agriculture Ministry official Hoang Van Nam. The city has culled the remaining 4,000 chickens and ducks in the affected flocks. More outbreaks were also detected over the weekend in four of the nine provinces that experienced earlier bird flu cases, Hai Duong, Bac Giang, Quang Nam and Thanh Hoa provinces.
"The bird flu is spreading faster and faster. We are mobilizing all forces, trying our utmost to prevent as much as we can and prepare for a possible pandemic on poultry as well as in humans," he said. Authorities were cleaning and disinfecting the farms, banning poultry transportation in and around those areas, and culling the remaining flocks, reports the AP. I.L.