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Bird flu spreads; no Chinese human cases
2004-02-03 00:00

Bird flu spreading in Asia has so far failed to victimize any human beings in China, though its tentacles latched onto even more Chinese regions yesterday, agriculture and health ministries said.

"We have conducted medical checkups and observations on 588 people who've had close contact with infected poultry, but none of them were found to have contracted the disease,'' said Ministry of Health spokesman Mao Qun'an.

But the Ministry of Agriculture last night confirmed another case of a bird flu outbreak in Chao'an County of South China's Guangdong Province, and named seven more areas in five provinces where outbreaks of suspected bird flu have been found.

Before yesterday, China had three confirmed cases and 10 suspected incidents -- all in poultry -- in 10 far-flung regions.

The newest suspected cases are in Lanzhou and Jingyuan County in Northwest China's Gansu Province, Fuyang and Jieshou cities in East China's Anhui Province, Pingjiang County in Central China's Hunan Province, Xiangfan in Central China's Hubei Province and Xi'an in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

Gansu and Shaanxi are new on the bird flu infection list.

Rumors refuted

Mao's denial of a human bird flu case in China was made in response to a report in a British newspaper, The Times, which on Monday alleged China had covered up its human bird flu cases.

The human death toll in other nations rose to 13 yesterday, Mao's remarks also served to cool the somewhat mounting fear among some people that the disease might be transmitted from person to person.

Claiming the British news report "irresponsible and groundless,'' Mao said that no human cases of H5N1 infection have been detected so far in China.

Since the epidemic erupted in neighbouring countries last month, China has stepped up its monitoring of human-to-human transmission of the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

In addition to guidelines for protecting people with close contact to sick poultry, the ministry has worked out contingency plans to avert human-to-human transmission of the virus and to carry out epidemiological investigations, he said.

The ministry has also started technological programmes for monitoring person-to-person transmission surveillance and to conduct laboratory testing, Mao said. Medical staff are being trained nationwide.

Since April 2002, the ministry has found not a single strain of highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza among Chinese flu patients.

Ninety-two per cent of 1,459 viral strains contained in 22,000 samples of Chinese flu sufferers last year were identified as A3 type and 2.7 per cent were found to be A1 type, the latest ministry statistics show.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhang Qiyue yesterday also categorically denied the foreign newspaper report. Zhang expressed her hope that journalists would contribute to an early resolution of the issue, instead of propagating false and irresponsible information.

Also Yesterday, Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu -- chief of a national command headquarters to battle the disease, reiterated China will make every effort to prevent bird flu from attacking humans.

WHO hails China's efforts

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Lee Jong-wook on Monday said he welcomed China's efforts in reining in the bird flu epidemic.

"China has taken strong and decisive measures,'' he told reporters in Brussels. "They are now treating avian flu as if it's the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).''

The WHO director-general said he believed China had the ability to bring the epidemic under control.

Back in China, the WHO Beijing Office yesterday called all top international and domestic organizations of bird flu control to step up co-operation to prevent the deadly epidemic from spreading wider in China.

Currently, WHO is in dialogue with the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss how best WHO's international experts can be deployed on a joint mission to help combat the avian flu outbreaks across China, said Roy Wadia, spokesman of the office.

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