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Bird flu spreads to ninth province in Vietnam, as human victim improves

Bird flu spread to another province in Vietnam, as the country's first human case in 18 months began to improve in health, officials said Monday.

Bird flu struck a farm in northern Ninh Binh province on Friday, bringing the number of provinces and cities hit by the virus in the past month to nine, provincial animal health director Dinh Quoc Su said.

The outbreak killed or forced the slaughter of about 1,800 ducks, he said.

Animal health officials disinfected the farm and vaccinated poultry in the surrounding area, Su said.

A 30-year-old man who was hospitalized with bird flu at Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital about 10 days ago has improved greatly, hospital director Tran Thuy Hanh said. The man tested positive for the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

"He can eat now. He was taken off a respirator on Friday," Hanh said.

Until the man from the northern province of Vinh Phuc became sick, Vietnam had not reported any human cases for 18 months. At least 42 people have died of bird flu in Vietnam, but none since November 2005.

The recent wave of outbreaks has killed or led to the slaughter of more than 10,000 birds.

Vietnam was hailed as a success story in combatting the virus that began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. A nationwide mass poultry vaccination program, coupled with strong political will, brought the virus under control.

No poultry outbreaks were reported in 2006, but the virus flared again early this year.

The H5N1 bird flu virus remains hard for people to catch, but experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans. It has killed at least 186 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.