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China reports fifth bird flu death this year

File image.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 26, 2009
An 18-year-old man died Monday of bird flu in southwestern China, the government said, bringing to five the number killed since the start of the year and adding to fears of a possible mass outbreak.

The man, surnamed Liang, died in the city of Yulin in the Guangxi region after falling ill on January 19, the Health Ministry said in a news release posted on its website.

Tests by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed he had contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus, it added.

The five deaths compare with just three in the whole of 2008.

The spate of fatalities has fuelled fears of an outbreak during this week's Lunar New Year holiday. Huge numbers of China's 1.3 billion people have gathered in their home towns and will consume poultry in vast quantities in holiday feasts.

The Health Ministry sought to quell the fears last week, saying in a statement faxed to AFP that there was no evidence that the risk of a general outbreak had increased.

The statement noted that the deaths were widely scattered across the country.

"There is no epidemiological connection between them -- they are sporadic cases," the ministry said in a statement.

Cold weather encourages the spread of the virus and large swathes of China have been hit by sub-zero temperatures in recent days. All three of last year's deaths also occurred in the first two months of the year.

A 31-year-old woman succumbed to the disease last Friday in northwest China's Xinjiang region, and a 16-year-old boy died earlier in the week in the central province of Hunan, although he initially fell ill in Guizhou.

On January 17, a 27-year-old woman died in the eastern province of Shandong.

The first fatality of 2009 occurred on January 5 when a 19-year-old woman died in Beijing.

However, at least two other cases have been reported, including a two-year-old girl in northern Shanxi province. Xinhua reported last week the girl was out of danger.

The agency reported on Monday that another man who had contracted the disease in Guizhou was now in a "stable" condition.

The latest death brings to 25 the number of people killed in the world's most populous country since the disease re-emerged in 2003, according to World Health Organisation figures.

China is considered one of the nations most at risk of bird flu epidemics because it has the world's biggest poultry population and many chickens in rural areas are kept close to humans.

Health experts fear that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads more easily among humans, leading to a global pandemic.

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