The National Centre for Laboratory and Epidemiology has advised epidemiologists and the public to be on the alert for bird flu after two men in China died from a lesser-known type of bird flu (H7N9) last month.

Director of the centre, Dr Phengta Vongphachanh, told Vientiane Times yesterday the centre was informed of the deaths by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday. It isn’t clear how the two men were infected but there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.

“H7N9 is a new strain of bird flu. Epidemiologists are investigating how dangerous this virus is compared to the H5N1 strain,” said Dr Phengta. The H5N1 virus is very often fatal. Epidemiologists throughout Laos are advised to step up bird flu prevention efforts to ensure the virus is kept at bay.

People who own poultry are advised to monitor their birds and inform local officials of any unexpected deaths.

The centre has already advised epidemiological networks throughout the country to closely monitor the situation in their communities. This includes explaining how bird flu can be prevented and what precautions should be taken by the general public. Dr Phengta advised anyone who had handled dead and diseased poultry and become ill to get a medical check-up to make sure they had not contracted the virus. Anyone who develops a temperature of more than 38C, has a cough and a sore throat should also consult a doctor. “We are closely monitoring the situation to make sure the virus can be contained at an early stage if it surfaces in Laos,” said Dr Phengta.