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China says bird flu outlook "not optimistic"

by 5m Editor
10 January 2006, at 12:00am

CHINA - China's bird flu outlook is "not optimistic" and human cases may increase if there are more poultry outbreaks, Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday, the day after the country's eighth human case was announced.

China says bird flu outlook "not optimistic" - CHINA - China's bird flu outlook is "not optimistic" and human cases may increase if there are more poultry outbreaks, Xinhua news agency said on Tuesday, the day after the country's eighth human case was announced.

China reported more than 30 outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus in birds last year, and three people are confirmed to have died of it in the last three months. In the latest human case, a 6-year-old boy from the central province of Hunan was taken sick in December and is now in hospital. "Measures to prevent and control the epidemic must be strengthened as the danger of bird flu not only exists in China but also threatens other countries," Xinhua said, citing health department spokesman Mao Qun'an.

H5N1 avian influenza has killed more than 70 people since 2003 and infected more than 150 -- and with outbreaks in Turkey there are signs it could spread into mainland Europe. While the World Health Organisation says there is no evidence so far to demonstrate human transmission, experts fear the H5N1 strain will evolve just enough to allow it to pass easily from person to person.

If it does, it could cause a pandemic, killing tens of millions of people, because humans lack immunity. China is investigating the cause of infection in its latest human case, Xinhua said, adding that birds raised by the boy's family had died before he began showing flu-like symptoms. "No abnormal clinic symptoms have been detected in the patients. Nor are there human-to-human cases," Mao was quoted as saying.

China, along with Vietnam, has suffered numerous outbreaks in poultry since October and Beijing has launched sweeping measures to stop the virus spreading and infecting more people, including a campaign to vaccinate all domestic poultry. Late last month, China announced its third death from bird flu. Officials say the preponderance of small family farms, a lack of well-trained local officials and the world's biggest poultry population will make it hard to contain the disease in China.

GROWING RISK

The Agriculture Ministry has warned that the risk of the virus spreading could be higher during the Chinese Lunar New Year, which falls at the end of January this year, as meat consumption and the transport of live poultry increases. China's poultry industry, which state media says lost 60 billion yuan ($7.44 billion) alone in the fourth quarter of 2005, is gearing up for more losses, according to one senior official.

"Prices of chicks have fallen 80 percent, and the price of chicken in the markets is down 20 percent," Deng Fujiang, vice chairman of the China Meat Association, told Reuters. Less severe poultry outbreaks in 2004 cost the industry an estimated 30 billion yuan, and the final figure for 2005 was likely to be far higher, he said.

"We don't even want to think about the losses incured last year," Deng said. China has been strictly controlling the movement of poultry around the country since last Autumn, even going as far as to set up special quarantine stations outside major cities to ensure no live birds get in.

It has done little to boost consumer confidence. "In our surveys, 40 percent of people said they are either eating less poultry, or have stopped altogether," Deng said. ($1=8.062 Yuan)

Source: Reuters - 10th January 2006

5m Editor