Saturday, December 17, 2005

China reports sixth human bird flu case

Thursday, 15 December , 2005, 23:05

Beijing: China said Thursday it had confirmed the sixth human case of bird flu, while announcing the first outbreak of the feared virus among poultry for more than two weeks, both in the same remote rural county.

The patient, identified as a 35-year-old man surnamed Guo, was a peddler in Suichuan county in Jiangxi, a province in east China so far not mentioned in reports of the spread of the deadly H5N1 virus across the nation this autumn.

"The virus is of course entrenched in the environment, not only in China but in many other countries," said Roy Wadia, a Beijing-based spokesman for the World Health Organization.

Guo, who fell ill on December 4 with fever and symptoms of pneumonia, is now being treated at a local hospital, state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing the health ministry.

The China Disease Prevention and Control Center tested samples from Guo and found he was infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus, according to Xinhua. The report gave no details of his present condition.

Local health authorities had taken measures to curb the spread of the virus, and people who had close contact with the patient were under strict medical observation, with no abnormal clinical symptoms found, Xinhua said.

While it was the first human bird flu case in Jiangxi reported by China, Guo's home county is located near the border with Hunan province, where at least one human case of bird flu has been detected in recent weeks.

Two other cases, both women who later died, have been confirmed in east China's Anhui province.

One further human case has been confirmed in Liaoning province in the northeast and one in Guangxi region in the south.

Despite the toll, China is seen as having escaped relatively lightly from the bird flu virus, which has killed more than 70 people throughout Asia since 2003.

Even so, China is seen as a potential flashpoint for a feared global pandemic because it has the world's biggest poultry population combined with often primitive farming conditions where humans and animals live in close proximity.

Earlier Thursday, the agriculture ministry reported an outbreak of bird flu among ducks on a poultry farm, also in Suichuan county.

A total of 1,640 ducks had died from a virus that was confirmed as the lethal H5N1 strain of avian influenza earlier in the day, the agriculture ministry said on its website.

The local veterinary authorities proceeded according to standard operating procedure, culling 150,000 domestic birds within a three-kilometer (two-mile) radius of the duck farm, according to the ministry.

It is the 31st outbreak of bird flu in China this year, according to previously published government data.

The most recent outbreak before the one reported Thursday was announced on November 30 in the westernmost region of Xinjiang.

The nation's chief veterinary officer Jia Youling told reporters on Wednesday that the absence of bird flu for more than two weeks signaled "initial success" in the endeavor to control the virus.

He also said that the possibility remained of sporadic outbreaks in the coming months, partly because of the "primitive management" of many backyard farms in China, making epidemic prevention difficult.

"We are still facing great challenges of bird flu control," Jia said.

One of the difficulties Beijing officials are facing is keeping an eye on everything that happens in the continent-sized country, in the face of unwillingness from farmers scared of losing their livelihood from cullings.

Jiangxi county is in a part of China that the authorities have had trouble monitoring and controlling for centuries, making it a center of underground communist activity in the 1930s.

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