Hoang Thuy Long, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, said the pair died last Thursday, taking the number of deaths in Vietnam from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza to eight.

Meanwhile, international crisis talks aimed at halting the rapid spread of bird flu across Asia were to open in Bangkok on Wednesday, as the threat of a disastrous outbreak loomed in China, the birthplace of SARS. 

China, which has vast quantities of poultry, confirmed three outbreaks of bird flu, hundreds of miles apart, in Guangxi province near Vietnam and the central provinces of Hunan and Hubei. 

About 14,000 ducks were culled at a farm in Guangxi and all poultry within a five-mile radius was quarantined. In Henan and Hubei, officials said more than 2000 chickens had been culled. No human infections had been reported. 

"The rapid spread of bird flu shows us once more the dark side of globalisation. Not only does it pose a grave economic threat, forcing the culling of millions of chickens, it also poses a serious public health threat." 

Thaksin Shinawatra,
Thai prime minister

Experts have said the emergence of bird flu in the world's most populous nation, which was criticised for covering up SARS, added an alarming new dimension to the bird flu crisis which has now struck 10 Asian countries.

The talks in Bangkok follow ominous warnings from the World Health Organisation that the H5N1 bird flu virus could combine with a human influenza and cause a pandemic threatening millions of human lives.

Ministers and officials from the 10 affected countries and other regional nations are to attend the talks on the disease which has killed at least eight people and led to the culling or death of more than 20 million chickens.

So far there have been no cases of human-to-human transmission, the scenario which most concerns the WHO. Scientists believe those infected had direct contact with live poultry or faeces.

Concrete plans

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose beleaguered government is among several to face charges it covered up the outbreak, will urge those at the meeting to come up with concrete plans to combat the disease.

"We know from our experience with SARS that no amount of cheerleading will restore public confidence unless we can come up with concrete action, credible information and verifiable scientific evidence," he said according to an advance copy of his opening speech. 

"The rapid spread of bird flu shows us once more the dark side of globalisation. Not only does it pose a grave economic threat, forcing the culling of millions of chickens, it also poses a serious public health threat." 

The Bangkok talks represent the first marshalling of Asian cooperation since last April's emergency summit here of 10
Southeast Asian nations plus China, which produced a successful regional framework to contain SARS, the atypical pneumonia that swept 32 countries and left nearly 800 people dead. 

With the avian influenza now spreading as far west as Pakistan and as far east as Japan, the Thai hosts are hoping the half-day talks will restore confidence in the region's shattered poultry industry.