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[HANOI] Researchers have identified antibodies from Vietnamese bird flu survivors that could form a possible treatment for bird flu.

The research was applauded as a positive step by Vietnamese health officials. It comes as the Vietnamese government today (1 June) released a report on the status of the country's fight against avian influenza.  

The researchers, including doctors from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, isolated antibodies from the blood of human survivors of the H5N1 virus. Studies in mice showed these to be effective at preventing infection and neutralising the virus in those already infected.

The research was published in PLoS Medicine this week (28 May).

Gregory Hartl, communications adviser at the World Health Organization said the study offers a potentially promising new mode for the prevention and treatment of H5N1. "[The antibodies] have the advantage of prolonged duration of activity compared to current antiviral drugs," he told SciDev.Net.

But he warned that unlike antiviral treatments, the antibodies would be strain-specific and not cover other influenza viruses, possibly limiting their potential should the virus mutate.

Nguyen Huy Nga, head of the preventive health department under the Ministry of Health said the study encouraged optimism for the battle against the deadly avian influenza virus.

But he said there was still a long way to go before the technique could be used as a human treatment.

The immediate priority, he said, is to establish effective preventive measures by raising awareness in the community, strengthening veterinary services and developing vaccinations.

Today (1 June) Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development released a report on the country's response to bird flu.

The report confirmed that since 2005, 93 people have been infected with avian influenza and 42 of them died.

According to the report, 12 provinces and cities across the country have recorded new occurrences of the virus in poultry since it reappeared at the end of 2006 after a lull of several months.

The report said the government has outlined a comprehensive communication and education strategy for preparedness and control. 

Measures include improving professional epidemiological and case reporting capacity, improving outbreak response and restructuring the poultry sector ― including providing assistance for livelihood changes.

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