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China Warns Against Bird Flu Complacency

Beijing (AFP) Jan 10, 2006
China Tuesday warned its people against complacency in the fight against bird flu, after the world's most populous nation announced its eighth human case of the virus.

"We cannot lower our guard in the slightest degree against the risk of bird flu triggering a new epidemic," Mao Qun'an, health ministry deputy director general, told a briefing.

"As long as there are still outbreaks among animals, as the health authority we cannot say bird flu is already past its peak."

In particular he warned against the nightmare scenario of bird flu starting to spread from human to human, rather than the current transmission pattern from bird to human.

"Even though we haven't yet detected cases of spread among humans, we can't ignore the potential threat," he said.

China is considered one of the places where bird flu could mutate to a strain capable of human transmission, triggering a global pandemic that could spread like wildfire and kill millions.

It has the world's biggest poultry population, combined with often primitive farming conditions where humans and animals live in close proximity.

The health ministry announced late Monday that a six-year-old boy in the central province of Hunan had become the country's eighth human case of bird flu.

The boy first showed symptoms of the lethal H5N1 strain on December 24 and is now under treatment in hospital, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Among the eight confirmed human cases there have been three fatalities, while there have been 33 outbreaks among poultry reported in several provinces since early 2005.

State media Tuesday said the latest outbreak was noticed in the southern province of Guizhou on January 1. Some 16,000 poultry died from the disease, while 42,000 were culled during the first week of January in the city of Guiyang, China Central Television reported.

The vast majority of China's bird flu cases have taken place within the past three months, suggesting a mounting challenge for the overburdened health bureaucracy.

Reacting to the spate of bird flu cases, Mao said that controlling the virus would be one of the health ministry's top priorities in 2006.

"What we're doing is to seek to strengthen supervision in the health system, to detect infectious diseases and monitor epidemics as early as possible," he said.

"In the new year we'll especially emphasize the effort to prevent and control bird flu among humans."

Observers have expressed concerns that China may not have the resources to keep track of all developments in its vast countryside.

One of the most urgent tasks is to improve the ability of health authorities to monitor developments at the grassroots level, according to Mao.

In each of China's tens of thousands of villages, qualified people will be picked and charged with monitoring and reporting the epidemics situation.

"We need to do this before a possible mutation of bird flu," he said.

The virus has killed more than 70 people throughout Asia since 2003, the majority of them in Vietnam.

European nations and world health experts are currently also on higher alert after Turkey reported 13 people had been infected with the disease, including two who have already died.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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West Haven CN (SPX) Jan 10, 2006
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