CHINA - HEALTH

Bird flu kills third human in in two weeks

A 16-year-old boy in central China died of bird flu on Tuesday, state media said. It is the third death from the H5N1 form of the virus in the past two weeks in China.

Advertising

AFP - Chinese health authorities said on Monday a 16-year-old boy in central Hunan province is badly ill after contracting the H5N1 birdflu virus, the third case reported in as many days as the Lunar New Year holiday looms.

 

The Ministry of Health said on its website (www.moh.gov.cn) the teenage student entered hospital in Hunan on Jan. 16 and the province disease control centre confirmed he was infected with the H5N1 virus. He came from Guizhou province, next to Hunan.

 

"The patient's condition is critical," the statement said. It added that he previously had "contact with dead poultry", but did not say where that contact happened.

 

China has warned of the risk of further human cases of bird flu in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday after reporting two new cases over the weekend.

 

Until this month, China had not seen a single human infection in almost a year, but it has now confirmed four cases of the H5N1 virus in less than two weeks.

 

Two have died, one a 27-year-old woman who died in eastern China on Saturday, and the other a 19-year-old woman who died in Beijing earlier this month.

 

The other weekend case was a two-year-old girl, surnamed Peng, found ill on Jan. 7 in Hunan and later diagnosed with bird flu at a hospital in her home province of Shanxi.

 

The report on the latest case did not say whether there was any link to the sick toddler. There have not been any reports of outbreaks of the virus among birds in Hunan since May 2007.

 

"As the Spring Festival approaches, there are frequent movements of poultry products and the risk rises of virus outbreaks and transmission," the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement on its website (www.agri.gov.cn).

 

The Spring Festival, or Lunar New Year holiday, starts next Monday, accompanied by a mass movement of people back to their home provinces for lavish celebratory meals.

 

Hong Kong's top health official, York Chow, called on China to release the results of epidemiological tests into the three recent cases reported before the latest one.

 

"There are two main areas that we are concerned with. One is if there is no avian flu outbreak in poultry and yet there are human cases, whether there's a change in the virus," said Chow, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health.

 

He also voiced concern over the possibility of "silently infected chickens" carrying the virus or transmitting the disease without showing outward birdflu-like symptoms.

 

Nyka Alexander, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation in Beijing, said WHO officials have been informed of the latest case and hope to get a better understanding of it in a meeting with Chinese health officials on Tuesday.

 
PRECAUTIONS
 

During the holiday season, when people are more exposed to poultry as consumption rises, people are urged to maintain normal precautions against avian influenza, such as ensuring all poultry is well cooked and always washing hands after contact with raw meat, WHO said in a statement.

 

State television said on Monday that the two-year-old girl was in stable condition in hospital though was not yet out of danger. It added that nobody else she had been in contact with had shown signs of illness.

 

The latest infections bring China's total to 34 human bird flu cases. At least 22 people have died.

 

The ministry said there had been no reported outbreaks of bird flu among poultry in the two provinces where the two-year-old patient had lived.

 

"The ministry has already asked Shanxi and Hunan provinces to ... strengthen their bird flu prevention work," it said.

 

Experts have said the new cases are not unexpected as the virus is more active during the cooler months between October and March, but have also pointed to holes in surveillance of the virus in poultry in China.

 

The H5N1 virus remains largely a disease among birds, but experts fear it could change into a form that is easily transmitted among humans and spark an influenza pandemic that could kill millions of people worldwide.

 

With the world's biggest poultry population and hundreds of millions of backyard birds, China is seen as critical in the fight to contain bird flu.

 

Since the H5N1 virus resurfaced in Asia in 2003, it has infected 391 people, killing 247 of them, according to WHO figures released in mid-December.

 

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning