Rabies – prevention is safer, cheaper 

Dogs and cats are the leading cause of rabies around the world.

Rabies is a viral disease transmitted trough saliva that causes acute encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. It is almost always fatal if appropriate treatment is not provided in time.

Once the symptoms appear, the disease will always lead to death, in spite of intensive care, sedation and assisted respiration.

The disease kills 31,000 people every year in Asia, and Vietnam has the second highest rate of fatalities after Thailand. In Vietnam, 197 registered people died from rabies, but it is possible that more people were infected and wrongly diagnosed.

It is transmitted by many infected animals through bites, scratches, or even licks on broken skin. Most animals can be infected by the virus, particularly dogs, cats, bats, monkeys, cattle, farm animals and other wild carnivores. Dogs are the source of 95 percent of human rabies infections.

The virus is present in the nerves, brains and saliva of infected animals. After a bite or a scratch, the virus enters the peripheral nervous system and reaches the central nervous system. Vaccination at this stage – when it is in the peripheral nervous system and has not reached the brain yet – can still prevent rabies. Once the virus reaches the brain, it causes encephalitis and it is too late to prevent the disease.

In Vietnam, dogs remain the principal host, but other animals can also be dangerous.

When an animal is infected, it remains asymptomatic for a few days. Then, for four days, it becomes hyper reactive to external stimuli and might bite without apparent cause. Later, it becomes incoordinate, drools, experiences paralysis and will die after respiratory arrest due to paralysis of respiratory muscles.


Early symptoms of rabies are non-specific: fever, headache, weakness or discomfort, in short, flu-like symptoms. Then, the patient may experience anxiety, confusion, agitation, insomnia, paralysis, incontrollable excitement, hyper salivation and hydrophobia (fear of water): despite great thirst, the patient cannot swallow water because of paralysis of jaws and throat. Then the patient begins to go into convulsions, enters a coma and death occurs a few days after onset of symptoms, due to the paralysis of respiratory muscles.

The incubation period for the disease might be as short as two weeks – for wounds close to the head, and as long as two years – for mild wounds like scratches. The shorter the distance between the wound and the central nervous system, the shorter the incubation period.

There are two kinds of symptoms: furious rabies exhibits signs of hyperactivity, excitement and hydrophobia; while paralytic rabies (30 percent of human cases) runs a longer course. Muscles become gradually paralyzed, starting at the site of the wound and the patient slips slowly into a coma. One in every five people who have rabies experiences this rising paralysis.


No test is available to diagnose rabies infection at the stage when treatment might be efficient. The blood test will only help in diagnosing the condition once serious symptoms have set in. The diagnosis is made by performing a PCR (polymerase chain reaction), which is a modern genetic analysis, or viral culture of the brain after death.

Analysis can also be performed from saliva, urine or cerebrospinal fluid samples.

Other virus might mimic rabies, including the herpes virus, enterovirus, arbovirus and the varicella-zooster virus. These are diseases not related to rabies, but they might mimic rabies. So doctors might perform other tests (serology), to make sure it is not one of those pathologies.


If a non-vaccinated animal bites a human, it must be isolated in a vet’s clinic for ten days and observed by a licensed vet periodically.

In case of a bite, scratch or lick on broken skin, wash the wound carefully with water and soap for at least fifteen minutes. Then apply alcohol solution or iodine solution to the wound. See your pediatrician as soon as possible for advice about antitetanus boosters and antibiotics. Post-exposure immunization will have to be performed if: the patient has not been vaccinated against rabies; has not completed the vaccination protocol; or is older than five years.

The patient will need to be given five shots: day 0, day 3, day 7, day 14 and day 28. For some serious wounds, immunoglobulines might be needed. Immunoglobuline is a passive protection: you provide the patient with antibodies that were synthesized by somebody else. It is very expensive and sometimes dangerous, but might be needed in case the patient does not have pre-exposure immunization.

The most dangerous areas are the face, the head and the neck as they are very close to central nervous system. There is no contraindication to post-exposure immunization.


The best prevention is pre-exposure immunization: you need 3 shots at day 0 (first day of the injection), day 7 and day 8, a booster at one year and every five years. The immunization process is best started when the child might be at risk with animals, usually when she/he begins to walk.

The adverse effects are very benign, sometimes erythema, oedema or fever. The shot is no more painful than other vaccines. You can use it during lactation, and the contraindications to pre-exposure vaccine are very few: acute fever or infection, allergy to streptomycine, polymyxine, or neomycine.

Why should you prefer pre-exposure immunization than post-exposure? Because it is more secure, simpler and less expensive. You will be less stressed when travelling in remote areas.

The disease always leads to death, and considering the high prevalence of rabies amongst animals in Vietnam, everybody should be protected.

You need also to teach children not to play with unknown animals. They should not run towards unknown animals. Remember their hands and face are very close to animals and they are more at risk than adults.

Remember too, to consult your pediatrician so that they can help keep your children in good health.

Hoan Kiem Turtle to take its status to the grave 


Experts still divided on ways to treat turtle too old and special for conservation efforts

The badly injured giant soft-shell turtle living in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, pictured here on February 8, is said to be one of four remaining Rafetus swinhoei specimens in the world. The photograph has initiated a new round of talks on ways to treat its injuries and improve its habitat.

As local and international experts scratch their heads on ways to save an extremely rare and injured giant soft-shell turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, it looks set to take its unique cultural and legendary status to its grave sometime over the next decade.

One agreement that has been reached among the scientists is that the environment in the 12- hectare lake needs improving.

“I don’t think there is any one single solution. I think improving the habitat or improving the quality of the environment in the lake is one of the first things that should be done,” said Timothy McCormack, a coordinator with the Cleveland Metropark Zoo’s Asian Turtle Program.

“During the dry season, I think the water level is very low. The pollution makes it seem a lot worse. So you can add more water into the lake to increase the water level and reduce the pollution,” he told Thanh Nien Weekly on the phone.

It is generally accepted that there are only four confirmed members of the species (Rafetus swinhoei) left in the world – two living wild in Vietnamese lakes – Hoan Kiem and Dong Mo – and a captive pair in China that have, so far, failed to produce fertile eggs. One Vietnamese scientist in the forefront of efforts to save the Hoan Kiem turtle, Ha Dinh Duc, has claimed it is the only member of a new species.

The rare soft-shell turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake has played a hugely important role in Vietnamese lore for more than 2,000 years. The Hoan Kiem Lake turtles are traditionally viewed as manifestations of the Golden Turtle God, or Kim Qui. Legend has it over the last two millennia that they have helped design fortifications, thwart enemy armies and produced a number of enchanted weapons.

Photos of the turtle over the past months showed multiple injuries on its neck and carapace, which pushed Hanoi authorities and scientists to rush for solutions to save the animal.


At a workshop on the issue in Hanoi on Tuesday (February 15), scientists continued to differ over the healing methods – removing the turtle from the lake to treat its injuries or remaining content with improving pollution in the lake.

Phan Thi Van of the Research Institute for Aquaculture proposed that the turtle be removed to an enclosed body of water and its injuries treated before it is released back into the Hoan Kiem Lake. Kim Van Van of the Agriculture University agreed with Van, adding that the lake should be dredged and cleaned.

However, McCormack argued that this could harm the animal.

“For the Hoan Kiem turtle, [although] the lake is really polluted, it has been there for many years. It is almost used to that water. If you remove the animal and move it to somewhere else, to a small enclosure maybe with clean water, it may actually make the situation worse,” he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Deity forever

Conservationists said that due to the advanced age and cultural significance of the Hoan Kiem turtle, it is not considered a candidate for breeding or conserving.

“Given its ‘God’ status, the idea of capturing it to check its sex was a non-starter,” said American Douglas Hendrie, technical advisor for the local conservation group Education for Nature-Vietnam. “So what we have here is a potentially sad tale. The Hoan Kiem turtle is old [and] it will die in that lake at some point, probably over the next decade,” said Hendrie.

“I fear that its cultural value far overshadows conservation interests and concerns, even to the point of allowing the turtle to die without replacement… and thus, the Hoan Kiem turtle does not factor into conservation at this time.”

Given this situation, conservationists have turned their attention to the Dong Mo Lake – a tiny body of water just west of Hanoi where a young, virile male Rafetus swinhoei is watched over by a team of conservationists and a one-armed fisherman who rents the eastern half of the lake. This healthy male may be the species’ last great hope, they say.

Duc, the Vietnamese scientist who has been monitoring the Hoan Kiem turtle for decades, said he would go ahead with his fight for the survival of the giant species.

Despite some remaining rifts with international experts on the issue, Duc has earned their admiration for his ardent conservation work.

“Duc is a positive voice for the [Hoan Kiem] turtle… and his life revolves around this turtle,” Hendrie said. “His heart is in the right place.”

Duc said his relentless conservation efforts have never burnt him out. The only thing worrying Duc was that he was getting old and no one seemed to be prepared to take over his job, he said.

“I have trained some people to work in the turtle conservation field. But they all ended up landing other jobs,” Duc said. “The modern life has made people more and more pragmatic.”

Will Duc’s idealism be pragmatic enough to save the turtle? Animal lovers in general and admirers of the Hoan Kiem turtle in particular are keeping their fingers crossed.

Slow and steady losing the race 


New wounds open old fears about survival of legendary Hoan Kiem Lake turtle

This photo taken on December 30 shows new injuries on the neck of the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle, according to Ha Dinh Duc, who has kept a close watch on the conditions of the giant soft-shell species since 1991

Vietnam’s only living animal deity could be in mortal danger.

Already bearing multiple scars caused by pollution and illegal fishing at Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake, the giant soft-shell turtle has sustained fresh injuries to its neck and carapace, said Ha Dinh Duc, a Vietnamese scientist who has been studying the giant species and kept a close watch on its conditions since 1991.

The rare soft-shell turtle has played a crucial role in Vietnamese lore for more than 2,000 years. There are only four confirmed members of the species left in the world – two living wild in Vietnamese lakes and a captive pair in China.

The Hoan Kiem Lake turtles are traditionally viewed as manifestations of the Golden Turtle God, or Kim Qui. Legend has it over the last two millennia, they have helped design fortifications, thwart enemy armies and produce a number of enchanted weapons.

Duc claims that the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle is around 700 years old and the last survivor of a species called Rafetus leloii. Several other scientists have argued, however, that the creature is a 120-year-old Rafetus swinhoei.

Despite its cultural, historical and ecological significance, the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle species is facing an increasingly precarious future, and many people are concerned.

“I was heart-broken seeing the condition of the turtle. Why has nothing been done to rescue such a historic symbol of the nation?” said a Hanoian who refused to be named. “The turtle should be preserved for future generations.”

But while conservationists are still debating what should be done to protect the country’s endangered deity, authorities concerned have maintained that the preservation of the animal is an issue they need to approach very carefully.

“This is a sensitive issue,” said Le Xuan Rao, director of Hanoi’s Department of Science, Technology, and Environment. “It needs thorough consideration before agencies concerned are able to come up with feasible solutions to protect the [Hoan Kiem Lake] turtle,” Rao was quoted by the Tuoi Tre newspaper as saying on Tuesday (January 4).

This has angered conservationists who fear the giant turtle has no time to wait.

“The injuries found on December 30 were probably the most severe ones the turtle has suffered in the last two decades,” said Duc.

“I don’t know why the authorities have kept saying they need more time to work out the solution,” Duc said. “I’m afraid when they are finally able to do something, it would be too late.”

In the dark

While awaiting the final decision from the authorities, international and Vietnamese experts have remained at odds on how to protect the giant creature.

The recent photograph of a red-eared slider clinging to the giant turtle’s carapace had Duc frantically calling for immediate destruction of the invasive species.

“Their impacts on the giant turtle are obvious,” Duc said, adding that he had been warning against the invasion of red eared sliders in Hoan Kiem Lake since 2004.

But this argument has been met with skepticism by international experts who said the red-eared sliders are not the biggest issue.

“I find it very unlikely that red-eared sliders would attack a larger animal. They’re more likely to eat dead meat or dead fish in the lake or other vegetation,” said Tim McCormack, a coordinator at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Asian

Turtle Program, a conservation network that seeks to develop and promote turtle conservation efforts in Asia.

McCormack also said that the photo of the red-eared slider piggyback on the Hoan Kiem turtle last month just looked like the smaller species trying to collect the body heat of the larger one to stay warm on a cold day.

“It’s more likely that the [larger] animal sustained injuries or has injured itself [on something else] in the lake,” McCormack said. “It’s difficult to tell from the photo.”

Douglas Hendrie, technical advisor for the local conservation group Education for Nature-Vietnam (ENV), backed McCormack’s stand. “Red-eared sliders are the most hated animals nowadays. But in Vietnam, they are not a major threat [to the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle].”

International conservationists also shrugged off Duc’s idea to catch the species and treat it.

“Catching a large turtle is not easy – you risk injuring or killing the animal when you try to catch it,” said McCormack. “The longer you keep it in captivity, the more chance for the animal to develop additional problems. Moving an animal into captivity needs to be carefully planned.”

“The turtle has survived many years in that lake. Pollution, people, disease, all around [but] it has done well. Why mess with a good thing?” said ENV’s Hendrie.

Both McCormack and Hendrie concurred that more experienced international experts should be brought in to resolve the issue. McCormack added he would ask for advice from international experts who had helped to move a turtle in China.

“At this stage, I would say leave the animal, monitor the situation, and people should try to take more photos to see if the injuries are increasing in size,” McCormack said. “Meanwhile, dozens of people are working around Hoan Kiem Lake – security guards and the police – it should be easy to limit littering and fishing [there].”

Treat or trick? 

Farmers feed their tra fish at a farm in the Mekong River Delta.

Last month, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) put Vietnam’s tra fish (pangasius) on the red list, warning seafood consumers across Europe that the fish farms polluted the environment.

Strangely, after angry protests by catfish breeders, processors, and officials, and a meeting between Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) and WWF representatives, the tra was taken off the red list; it became miraculously safe for consumers again.

Some may think it was a happy ending for the Vietnam’s fishery industry, but if you look closer, you would see that WWF’s move was merely a ruse to push Vietnam into adopting the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) standards.

Nguyen Tu Cuong, member of the executive committee of the Vietnam Fishing Association, once told the press that some organizations claiming to be nongovernmental issue warnings about “violations of standards” that they create themselves.

As a result, producers must get certificates from the organization to be considered standardized, he said.

After the WWF announcement caused a stir in Vietnam’s fishery industry, WWF global seafood leader Mark Powell told a meeting in Hanoi that they would encourage Vietnamese aquaculture breeders to adopt the ASC. He went as far as to say that that the future for Vietnamese pangasius breeders lies in obtaining the ASC certificates.

As soon as VASEP promised to cooperate with WWF, the pangasius was taken off the dreaded red list.

Was it magic?

Within less than a month, the fish, very popular in many European countries, was suddenly knocked off from the “yellow – think twice,” to the “red – don’t buy” list. And some negotiations and arm-twisting later, it was restored to the “yellow” list again.

As an experienced catfish breeder, I would like to point out that if the fish were being bred in polluted farms in industrial areas as claimed by WWF, they wouldn’t stay alive anyway.

Think about it – organizations such as the WWF, in fact, have no right to impose their standards on fish breeders and traders.

Only governments, importers, businesses and consumers should be allowed to ask exporters to meet their quality standards.

Treasure Islands 


Japanese experts help residents understand each house in their village is part of a precious heritage

Yamaguchi Yoriko (L) and Inoue Aiko in the garden of an ancient house in Duong Lam Ancient Village.

They know the village like the back of their hand.

But the two young women leading a tour group in Duong Lam Village – through Mong Phu Gate, and along winding paths lined with laterite walls – are neither natives nor professional guides.

Dr. Inoue Aiko and Yamaguchi Yoriko are Japanese culture experts helping residents to restore and preserve their village. Several houses in the Duong Lam Village are more than three centuries old.

Aiko left her hometown in Tokyo to work with locals to preserve and promote relics among tourists. After three years of working with UNESCO in Bangkok, Aiko moved to Vietnam to put her knowledge and experience to good use.

A volunteer with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Aiko said, “Tourists coming to Duong Lam Village for the first time can easily get lost in the labyrinth of paths, but this is a unique charm of the village.”

Aiko, 31, a cultural heritage management specialist, stops at a 360-year-old house, which was the first to be retored in Duong Lam in 2008 with the help of JICA experts and the Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Yamaguchi Yoriko, a native of Hokkaido, arrived in Duong Lam Village six months before Aiko.

Yoriko, 29, has studied the architecture of the northern Vietnamese countryside, in particular, that of Duong Lam Village. She tells the tour group that unlike other gates in the region, which were built with a mezzanine on the roof, Mong Phu Gate is merely a house with two low sloped roofs.

Together with Nguyen Van Hung, the home’s owner and 12th generation Nguyen Van clan member in Mong Phu Hamlet, Aiko narrates the history of the house and the village.

She explains how the five-room house, covering an area of 420 square meters, was built with wood, laterite and unbaked bricks made of soil and rice husk – keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer. The structure, one of 30 first-ranked ancient homes and 1,000 other relics in the area, was restored in three months.

After just nine months of staying in the village, about 60km from Hanoi, Aiko has learned to cook many local specialties. Her favorite local treats are Cao Lam tea, and banh te (rice cake filled with browned onions).

Like a member of the family, she helps Hung and his wife prepare lunch, including ga mia (a kind of special chicken presented to the king in the past), boiled water spinach dipped in soybean sauce and fresh tea for the visitors.

The Duong Lam Village has a history of about 1,200 years and is the only place in Vietnam where two kings, Phung Hung (761-802) and Ngo Quyen (808-944), were born. They led the resistance to victories over Chinese Sung and Southern Han troops to gain national independence.

According to the Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board, the village expects 30,000 visitors by 2020, despite a severe shortage of space. Aiko says the house owners should not receive too many visitors at the same time, and should pay attention to hygiene and sanitation to promote sustainable village tourism.

Yoriko, who travels on her bicycle everyday to visit different places in the village, says the village is a living museum.

A pagoda in front of Mong Phu Gate was Yoriko’s first preservative project. In just three months, Yoriko and her team disassembled the building, then selected undamaged tiles and wooden slats one by one. Then they redesigned the damaged ones and restored the building.

Nguyen Trong An, deputy head of Duong Lam Ancient Village Management Board, said: “As a technical consultant and supervisor, Yoriko is very careful in selecting the preservation plan, and precise in every detail. She keeps a close watch on the progress of the project.

Apart from its historical and tourism value, the village is an important place for scientists to study communities practicing old agricultural traditions.

According to Ha Nguyen Huyen, owner of a house dating back to 1848, “We are eternally grateful to the Japanese experts. Not only did they help us preserve our homes, but also helped us look outside, then back at ourselves. Without them, the locals might have not appreciated the true value of our own treasures.”

Com – a green shade of deliciousness 


Much has been said of Vietnam’s obsession with rice. There are rice noodles, rice desserts, rice pancakes and just plain rice… and then, there is com.

Com is no ordinary com. It is freshly harvested sticky rice, with a natural subtle sweetness prized by connoisseurs and gourmet chefs worldwide.

The immature rice kernels are roasted over very low heat and then pounded into flat flakes you see in markets.

Com is most common in the northern region of Vietnam. Visitors to Hanoi often buy small packs of com as souvenir gifts for family and friends.

Com is a traditionally gift to newly-wed couples, and also given during Tet and the mid-autumn festival.

Though it is grown all over Vietnam, the com of Vong village (on the outskirts of Hanoi) is the most prized for its unique flavor and fragrance. Vong villagers closely guard their family secrets of growing, harvesting, and processing the best green rice.

The most important thing when harvesting com is to check the suitability of the rice kernels. The farmer bites into raw grains to check their sweetness. If the rice is as sweet as milk, they are ready for harvest.

Mature grains do not produce the vivid green coloring, and grains that are too young fall apart when pounded.

Com-course meals

In the countryside, com is often steamed in lotus or banana leaf. In cities, it is most commonly used in banh com, a popular green rice cake peddled by street vendors and made in artisan kitchens.

To make the filling for banh com, steam pounded mung beans and caramelize it with sugar over very low heat.

Add shredded coconut, Vietnamese candied lotus seeds or candied winter melon to the caramelized mung beans. Stuff this filling in green rice cakes and wrap each cake in a banana leaf to make banh com.

Another popular green rice dish is cha com – fried ground pork with green rice.

To make cha com, ground pork is first mixed with green rice, fish sauce and pepper, steamed, and then fried until the meat turns brown and crispy.

Specialty restaurants use com in delicacies such as deep-fried shrimp or spring rolls coated with green rice.

Com is also used in the popular dish che com – green rice sweet soup. To make che com, green rice is cooked with arrowroot or Kudzu root powder, rock sugar, and drops of pomelo flower essential oil.

Other sweet com treats include green rice ice-cream and green rice fried with coconut.

Green rice delicacies are fast catching on in foodie circles across Vietnam. Several restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City also feature green rice dishes on menus now.

A perfect hot spot 


 “Well baked” visitors share a photo-op

Among the mountains of southeastern Vietnam, amidst the lush greenery of a primary forest, a perfect hot spot awaits your discovery.


The Binh Chau – Ho Coc area teems with hot springs hidden in forests. They were “discovered” in 1928 by a French doctor named Salle.

The area consists of more than 70 visible hot springs with water temperatures ranging from 37 to 82 degree Celsius.

Tourists have been flocking to Binh Chau – Ho Coc hot springs since 1989 in search of relaxation and relief.

Experts say the water contains many substances like silica, nitrogen, sulfur, sodium, and chlorine that are useful for treating many types of illnesses.

The minerals in the water are said to be beneficial for the bones, muscles and skin, and to improve blood circulation, thus strengthening the immune system and facilitating the healing process.

Visitors soak their feet in hot water along a concrete channel winding through the area, and usually, do not forgo the opportunity to boil eggs in the 80°C wells.


• Binh Chau – Ho Coc tourism site is located in Bung Rieng Commune, Xuyen Moc District, Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, around 150 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City.

• From HCMC, travel along the National Highway 51 for 100 kilometers until Ba Ria Town. Then turn left to drive long the National Highway 55 for another 55 kilometers to reach Binh Chau – Ho Coc.

• Tourists wanting to come to the site by bus can buy tickets from the Mien Dong Bus Station at 292 Dinh Bo Linh Street in HCMC’s Binh Thanh District. Buses on the Saigon – Binh Chau route depart from 7 to 14:30 every day.

• To book tours, contact Saigon – Binh Chau – Ho Coc Eco-tourist Resort at (064) 3 871 131 /3 871 623 or (08) 3 997 0677. The website http://www.saigonbinhchauecoresort.com provides more information.

A visitor enjoys a pedicure at Binh Chau hot spring

We reached Binh Chau – Ho Coc after spending three hours on the bus from Ho Chi Minh City. The stiffness and muscle tensions of a somewhat long journey disappeared as we immersed ourselves in a pool where the water stayed at 37 degrees Celsius.

Beside the hot-water baths, the site now offers mud-baths, sauna, massage, jacuzzi and steam baths.

A sports-leisure complex to play golf, volleyball and tennis as well as a garden named Vuon Trang with a 1,000-seat open air stage have been added to the area to lure more visitors. The last-mentioned facility is often hired by companies for team-building activities and by others for concerts, dance performances and so on.

Other “attractions” include river fishing and rides on horse-carriages.

For the more scientifically inclined, or those looking for added adventure, the Binh Chau forest is an ideal place to explore.

Accommodation in Binh Chau is offered by eight hotels with the usual range of rooms, not to mention a few villas.

In 2003, the Binh Chau Hot Spring area was recognized by the World Tourism Organization as one of 65 sustainable ecotourism areas located in 47 countries worldwide.

Those visiting Binh Chau can also head to the Ho Coc Beach, around 15 kilometers from the hot springs.

The three-kilometer long, white sandy beach is more or less unspoilt – an idyllic get-away spot.