21-year-old student dies of H5N1 bird flu in Vietnam

birds in the Thung Nham bird sanctuary in Vietnam
A 21-year-old man died from bird flu in the country on March 23. (Image credit: Ashit Desai/Getty Images)

A student in Vietnam has died of H5N1 bird flu, according to the country's Department of Preventive Medicine.

The 21-year-old man developed symptoms of fever and a cough on March 11. A week later, he presented at Ninh Hoa Medical Center in Vietnam's eastern Khanh Hoa province, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and transferred to Khanh Hoa General Hospital.

The student tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza on March 20, and further tests conducted two days later at the Nha Trang Pasteur Institute showed the patient was infected with the H5N1 subtype. 

This strain of bird flu is known to cause deadly outbreaks in wild and domesticated birds and to occasionally infect people

"Due to the serious progression of the disease, the patient died on March 23," representatives of the Department of Health of Tay Ninh Province wrote in a translated statement.

An investigation revealed the student, who was enrolled at Nha Trang University, had gone wild bird trapping before and after the Lunar New Year on Feb. 10. However, no sick or dead birds have been reported in the area where he went trapping, close to Ninh Hoa town.

Related: Bird flu wipes out over 95% of southern elephant seal pups in 'catastrophic' mass death

The student lived with his family in a village near Ninh Hoa. "Cases of close contact with patients are listed and their health monitored daily," representatives wrote in the statement. "To date, no new cases have been detected."

Since 2003, 128 people have been infected with H5N1 bird flu in Vietnam, according to the statement, and 65 of these cases resulted in death. Worldwide, there have been more than 880 sporadic human infections across 23 countries in the same time period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

There have been six outbreaks of the virus in poultry flocks in Vietnam since the beginning of 2024, with the country's Ministry of Health warning of the risk of transmission from birds to humans in December 2023.

Avian influenza can jump from birds to mammals, including humans. The virus has been reported in close to 50 mammal species — including foxes, seals and polar bears — and has recently been detected in cattle for the first time. There are no known cases of bird flu being passed on from a mammal to a human or between humans, and the risk of infection is limited to people who are in direct contact with infected animals.

Sascha Pare
Trainee staff writer

Sascha is a U.K.-based trainee staff writer at Live Science. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Southampton in England and a master’s degree in science communication from Imperial College London. Her work has appeared in The Guardian and the health website Zoe. Besides writing, she enjoys playing tennis, bread-making and browsing second-hand shops for hidden gems.