CHINA / National

Bird flu outbreak confirmed in China
Updated: 2006-05-05 15:42

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture Friday confirmed outbreak of bird flu among wild birds in a remote areas Qinghai Province, northwest China.

The outbreak was confirmed by the national bird flu laboratory on Wednesday, and the number of dead wild bird had risen to 123 by Thursday, the ministry said on its website.

Seventeen dead wild geese were found in the wetlands in Yulin county, Yulin prefecture in Qinghai Province on April 23, and samples from the dead birds were sent to the state bird flu laboratory for tests.

On May 3, the laboratory confirmed that these wild birds died of H5N1 virus of bird flu.

The wetlands are more than 800 kilometers from the Qinghai Lake, where the bird island is located. This plateau area is sparsely populated.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Qinghai Province, after the dead geese were found, have taken all necessary measures to monitor and sterilize the area, and to prevent human contacts with the wild birds.

This is the second time H5N1 has turned up in Qinghai, a region of high-altitude plains and mountains that sits on a prime migration route for birds between Siberia and South Asia.

The first outbreak, a year ago, was seen as a warning that the virus was poised to spread beyond China and Southeast Asia. In the year since, outbreaks have occurred as far away as Europe and Africa.

So far H5N1 has not evolved into a virus easily transmissible among humans. The virus has been detected among birds in more than 50 countries, while nine countries have reported human cases, 113 of them fatal, according to U.N. agencies.

The worry among disease experts is that the farther the virus spreads, the greater the chances of contact between infected birds and humans and the greater the likelihood it will mutate into a more virulent form.

"Since this outbreak is in wild birds, it will increase the sense of emergency," said Noureddin Mona, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's representative in Beijing. "Wild birds are difficult to control. All countries have to be on alert."

Countries astride major migration routes should set up observation posts to check for sick birds, Mona said, and the FAO was looking to improve coordination with other agencies to monitor wetland areas. 

Unlike the first outbreak a year ago when China delayed allowing outside experts into Qinghai, authorities appeared to respond relatively quickly this time. Mona said FAO experts are scheduled to investigate the disease zone next week.

The Agriculture Ministry said that after herders and forestry officials first reported finding dead bar-headed geese on April 23 in Qinghai's Yushu county, the local government immediately dispatched a group of veterinary experts to the area.

The area is lightly populated. The ministry said no homes were raising domesticated fowl - a factor that decreases the risks of further transmission. Herders were told to take their livestock a few weeks early to summer grazing grounds, far away from the infected area, the ministry statement added.

The government has also disinfected the area and set up observation posts to monitor the migratory fowl. In addition to bar-headed geese, a brown-headed gull and a ruddy shelduck were also found dead, the statement said.