Background: Recent outbreaks of avian influenza A (H5N1) in poultry throughout Asia have had major economic and health repercussions. Human infections with this virus were identified in Vietnam in January 2004.
Methods: We report the clinical features and preliminary epidemiologic findings among 10 patients with confirmed cases of avian influenza A (H5N1) who presented to hospitals in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam, in December 2003 and January 2004.
Results: In all 10 cases, the diagnosis of influenza A (H5N1) was confirmed by means of viral culture or reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction with primers specific for H5 and N1. None of the 10 patients (mean age, 13.7 years) had preexisting medical conditions. Nine of them had a clear history of direct contact with poultry (median time before onset of illness, three days). All patients presented with fever (temperature, 38.5 to 40.0 degrees C), respiratory symptoms, and clinically significant lymphopenia (median lymphocyte count, 700 per cubic millimeter). The median platelet count was 75,500 per cubic millimeter. Seven patients had diarrhea. In all patients, there were marked abnormalities on chest radiography. There was no definitive evidence of human-to-human transmission. Eight patients died, one patient has recovered, and one is recovering.
Conclusions: Influenza A (H5N1) infection, characterized by fever, respiratory symptoms, and lymphopenia, carries a high risk of death. Although in all 10 cases the infection appears to have been acquired directly from infected poultry, the potential exists for genetic reassortment with human influenzaviruses and the evolution of human-to-human transmission. Containment of influenza A (H5N1) in poultry throughout Asia is therefore urgently required.
Copyright 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society