Beijing, China (AFP) Oct 25, 2005
China was Tuesday hit with its second outbreak of bird flu in a week, with 2,100 geese and chickens infected in the eastern province of Anhui as a new action plan to deal with the crisis was released.
The outbreak was detected on October 20 in Liangying village, and the area has been sealed off, according to a Chinese Ministry of Agriculture report to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
So far 550 birds have died and 44,736 have been culled. The state-run Xinhua news agency reported later that the outbreak had been brought under control.
It was the sixth outbreak in China this year and the second in less than a week following the deaths of 2,600 birds and the culling of 91,000 at a farm in the northern Inner Mongolia region.
Noureddin Mona, China representative of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, said Chinese laboratory tests confirmed the latest outbreak was the H5N1 strain of the virus which has killed more than 60 people in Asia.
"It is the H5N1 strain," he told AFP, saying that only geese were involved, contrary to the report on the OIE website.
"The measures that have been taken include sealing off the infected premises and the culling of birds in the infected area. They have also applied vaccinations in a three-kilometre (two-mile) radius," he said.
Separately, Hong Kong's government on Tuesday said it had suspended poultry imports from the Chinese province of Hunan, saying an outbreak of the H5N1 strain had been confirmed there.
While Chinese authorities were silent on Hunan, Xinhua reported the statement from Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, which said nearly 2,500 birds had been culled in Hunan after 545 fell sick and died.
Hong Kong authorities had "received notification from the Ministry of Agriculture of the Mainland this afternoon of an H5N1 avian influenza outbreak among poultry in a village in Hunan Province," an official was quoted saying.
"We understood that a total of 687 chickens and ducks showed signs of illness, of which 545 died. A total of 2,487 birds in the same batch, including the sick ones, were culled."
Chinese leaders have warned the country faces a "grave" threat from avian influenza, as both Asia and Europe fight to contain the deadly virus.
To prevent a disastrous outbreak, China's health and agricultural ministries have intensified their coordination and strengthened monitoring around the country, and on Tuesday details of a new contingency plan emerged.
Beijing and other large Chinese cities said Tuesday they had stepped up precautions, with the capital setting up sterilization stations at 27 highway and road entries into the city, checking all poultry transported on trucks.
Hangzhou, the capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, had designated a number of hospitals to monitor flu patients and asked the medical staff to immediately report suspected flu cases.
According to the China Daily, all bird flu outbreaks must be reported to authorities in Beijing within three hours of their detection.
This gives county or city officials two hours to report outbreaks to provincial authorities, who, after confirmation by veterinary departments, must inform the agriculture ministry within the hour.
The plan also outlines drills to be conducted by emergency teams of vets and health workers to ensure they know how to handle the situation promptly.
Meanwhile, the State Forestry Administration has set up 118 monitoring stations across the country charged with looking out for sudden, abnormal deaths among migratory birds.
The period between September and November is considered the most risky as migratory birds are heading south for the winter, potentially contributing to the rapid, irreversible spread of the dangerous virus, the administration said.
Mona said China's government appeared to be taking the threat very seriously.
"We feel the cooperation we are getting from China is really great, it's transparent. They report the outbreaks swiftly and the cooperation is very smooth, especially in information sharing," he said.
"They have no other option than to share information. This is a global problem."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that while Beijing has strong political determination, and surveillance has been enhanced during the past months, more measures need to be implemented at the local level.
According to the WHO, China witnessed around 50 outbreaks of bird flu last year in 16 provinces but Mona said it was too hard to predict the scale of potential outbreaks this year.
"I can't predict the magnitude of any potential outbreak here, but I feel China is taking it very seriously and it has contingency plans and is trying to get to the root of the problem," he said.
Asia has been battling bird flu since late 2003, with vaccination campaigns and massive culls of tens of millions of chickens and ducks. At least 60 people have died although no human infections have been reported in China.
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