CHINA FINDS MORE BIRD FLU AHEAD OF CRISIS TALKS


2004.02.15
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China has confirmed outbreaks of avian flu in more locations, as United Nations and Asian health officials prepare for an emergency meeting in Delhi to discuss ways to combat the disease, which has killed 20 people in Asia so far, RFA reports.

And a teenage boy in Thailand has become the 20th person to die of bird flu, caused by a virus known as H5N1. Ekaphan Pongkhan, 13, succumbed after more than two weeks in hospital Sunday, the latest victim of the virulent influenza strain that has now killed six Thais and 14 Vietnamese.

In China, new cases of bird flu were reported in Shanghai, the northern port city of Tianjin, which borders Beijing, Guangdong Province and the Guangxi Autonomous Region, the Ministry of Agriculture�s National Bird Flu Reference Laboratory said in a statement.

Beijing�where officials are alarmed at how close the virus has come to the capital�said it would keep open its avian flu prevention center.

The deputy director of the communicable disease section of the Ministry of Agriculture told RFA he was concerned that flocks of migratory birds would begin to move north again once the weather got warmer, and bring the virus with them to the Chinese capital. Beijing has around 350 species of bird, of which around 60 percent are migratory.

�When the time comes, we will carry out blood tests to see whether or not the birds are carrying the virus, and if so where it came from,� the official said. More than 7,800 people had been put under medical observation after coming into close contact with infected birds, but no human infections had so far been reported, China�s agriculture ministry said on its Web site.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) was unable to rule out the possibility of human infection in the country. The warning came as senior health and agricultural officials, including U.N. experts from Bangkok, were due to gather in New Delhi for an emergency summit of seven Asian nations on Monday to discuss joint efforts to fight the epidemic.

The meeting in New Delhi �will deliberate on possible cooperation for tackling the problem of avian influenza,� the Indian government said in a statement Friday. India has not reported cases of bird flu so far, but Pakistan has been struck by a milder strain of avian flu that cannot cross the species barrier into humans.

Ekaphan and the other Thai victims�four boys aged between six and seven and a 58-year-old woman�are thought to have caught the virus from direct contact with infected poultry.

Ekaphan had helped to bury chickens that died of the disease at his family home.

Fears persist that the virus could combine with a human flu virus to become a deadly disease that can spread among people. Now there are concerns it may have leapt to exotic animals. Tests showed a clouded leopard kept in a zoo near Bangkok died of bird flu last month, but whether the H5N1 virus was responsible was unclear.

Recent tests have also discovered the virus in nasal swabs taken from pigs in Vietnam, officials said. #####

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