Monday, January 19, 2009

China reports second bird flu death this year

Monday, January 19, 2009

BEIJING (AP) — China is stepping up bird flu precautions on fears that the virus could spread more quickly in cold weather and as families gather for Lunar New Year feasts that often include poultry. Four new cases of the illness — two fatal — have been reported this month.

A flu expert at China's National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Shu Yuelong, said new infections were likely because the H5N1 virus is more active in lower temperatures.

"The situation urges us to further strengthen prevention and supervision," Shu was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency late Monday.

The Agriculture Ministry said it is requiring tighter monitoring of disease outbreaks at all levels and proper vaccination of all poultry. It would also increase checks across the country and at borders.

"With the Lunar New Year approaching, the volume of trade of live poultry is growing, and the risk of the emergence and spread of an epidemic is increasing," the ministry said in a statement posted late Sunday on its Web site.

An estimated 188 million people travel between cities and rural hometowns for Lunar New Year, the country's biggest holiday, which begins next week.

Dishes prepared from freshly slaughtered chicken and duck feature prominently in celebration feasts. This means a potentially greater risk of exposure to sick birds as people shop in markets for poultry or when the birds are transported to be sold, said the World Health Organization's Beijing office.

The most recent death from the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus occurred in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province in China's east.

The 27-year-old woman surnamed Zhang died Saturday, the Health Ministry said, but did not give any details on how Zhang, who fell sick on Jan. 5, contracted the virus.

The fatality comes less than two weeks after a 19-year-old woman died from an H5N1 infection in a Beijing hospital after buying and cleaning ducks in a market in a neighboring province.

On Monday, the Health Ministry announced the latest H5N1 infection — a 16-year-old student surnamed Wu in the central province of Hunan. The teen fell ill Jan. 8 in his hometown in Guizhou province in the country's southwest and was in critical condition, the ministry said.

It said the boy had been in contact with domestic poultry that had died from illness but did not elaborate. Those in close contact with Wu have not shown signs of infection, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, a 2-year-old girl sickened by H5N1 was in critical condition in the northern province of Shanxi after falling ill on Jan. 7. Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong newspaper backed by the mainland's communist authorities, reported that the girl's mother died recently and that doctors "highly suspected" bird flu.

The paper did not give any other details and Shanxi health officials refused to comment on the mother's death. But Xinhua, citing a health official, said that none of the 67 people who had close contact with the girl have become ill.

The WHO said it was prepared to provide assistance to China if asked and urged people to take precautions against bird flu infections by washing their hands after handling raw meat and ensuring that all poultry is well cooked.

According to the WHO, bird flu has killed 248 people worldwide since 2003.

While the disease remains hard for humans to catch — with most cases linked to contact with infected birds — scientists have warned that if outbreaks among poultry are not controlled, the virus may mutate into a form more easily passed between people.

Human-to-human transmission of bird flu has happened about a dozen times in the past, in countries including China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Turkey. In nearly every case, transmission has occurred among blood relatives who have been in close contact, and the virus has not spread into the wider community.


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