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. China urges increased vigilance against bird flu during holiday

by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Jan 12, 2009
China urged Monday medical institutions to step up vigilance against bird flu outbreaks during the Lunar New Year holiday, a week after a teenager died of the disease.

"Medical institutions must strengthen monitoring, especially in areas where bird flu could erupt, and particularly during the Spring Festival," health ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an told reporters.

Mao said anyone who failed to report an infectious disease case or reported it late would be punished.

The death from bird flu last Monday of 19-year-old Huang Yanqing was China's first from the disease in nearly a year and highlighted the increased risk of the H5N1 virus during winter.

Huang, who lived in Beijing, apparently contracted the disease on December 24 after cleaning the internal organs of ducks she bought in nearby Hebei province.

On Monday, Beijing's health bureau said on its website that more than 51,300 people working in the poultry business in the capital had undergone medical checks but no flu-like cases were found.

It also said that 131 of the 200 people who had been in close contact with Huang had been released from quarantine while the others were still under observation.

The agriculture ministry said Thursday there had been no outbreak of the deadly disease in Beijing and neighbouring areas.

But Mao urged people to be extra vigilant, particularly during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday which begins on January 26, when millions of people will be on the move.

"People, as far as is possible, must reduce their chances of contact with live poultry, especially sick poultry," he said.

H5N1 strain of bird flu has now killed 248 people since it reappeared in Asia in 2003, according to the World Health Organisation. Twenty-one of the deaths have been in China.

Scientists fear the virus could eventually mutate into a form more easily transmissible between humans, triggering a global pandemic.

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Zimbabwe cholera epidemic death toll stands at 1,778: WHO
Geneva (AFP) Jan 7, 2009
Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic has claimed at least 1,778 lives since August last year with the number of diagnosed cases rising to 35,931, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

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