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Bird Flu Fatality Reported in China

The WHO confirms that a woman died and a child was sickened in the first such human cases on the mainland.

November 17, 2005|From Times Wire Services

BEIJING — China reported its first human cases of bird flu on the mainland, including at least one fatality, as health workers raced to inoculate billions of chickens and other poultry.

The World Health Organization confirmed reports from China's Health Ministry that the deadly H5N1 flu strain had killed a 24-year-old poultry worker in the eastern province of Anhui and sickened a 9-year-old boy in the central province of Hunan. The official New China News Agency said the ministry suspected that the boy's 12-year-old sister, who died, also had the virus.

Experts worry that the virus could spread and mutate in China because of its huge poultry flocks and their contact with humans. Migrating fowl also pass through the country.

Foreign officials had warned that a human infection in China was inevitable after the country suffered 11 outbreaks in poultry over the last month, which prompted authorities to destroy millions of birds.

The news came hours before Indonesia's Health Ministry confirmed two more deaths from bird flu in that country.

Hariadi Wibisono, a Health Ministry official, said tests by a lab in Hong Kong had confirmed that a 20-year-old woman who died last weekend and a 16-year-old girl who died last week had the virus.

Both victims, who died in Jakarta, had contact with dead chickens, he said.

The H5N1 strain has infected at least 126 people in Asia and killed at least 64 of them since 2003, two-thirds of them in Vietnam.

WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng in Geneva said the Chinese cases did not increase the risk of a flu pandemic because there had been no observed genetic change in the virus and no apparent spread among people.

The Chinese government announced plans Tuesday to vaccinate the country's 14 billion domestic fowl.

It wasn't clear how long that would take.

Officials in the northeastern province of Liaoning, the scene of four outbreaks, said they had completed a program begun this month to vaccinate the province's 320 million birds.

The Chinese territory of Hong Kong recorded the first known cases of humans stricken with H5N1 bird flu in 1997, when 18 people were sickened and six died, according to the WHO. The entire poultry population of about 1.5 million birds was slaughtered.

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