Natural disasters and the movement of migratory birds are increasing the threat of serious animal epidemic outbreaks this spring, a top agriculture official said Thursday.
Many of the regions devastated by the recent snowstorms have dense populations of waterfowl that can raise the risk of epidemics, Yin Chengjie, vice-minister of agriculture, said.
His warning followed the reemergence of bird flu in the country, with the disease claiming its third fatality of the year on Monday.
In addition to the rainfall in southern regions making the bird flu virus more active, disruption to the transport network and shortages of water and power have led to the vaccination of livestock being postponed, which makes them more vulnerable to disease, he said.
Frequent deliveries of poultry and livestock in the wake of natural disasters and the presence of migratory birds add to the risk of an epidemic occurring, Yin said.
"Local livestock and husbandry departments should take precautions to prevent animal epidemics such as bird flu and make preparations for disease control," he said.
He did not specify which regions were most at risk.
Yin also urged local authorities to speed up the vaccination of livestock to ensure there are sufficient food supplies during spring.
Last month, the Ministry of Agriculture ordered all seasonal vaccinations to be completed by the end of May, and said follow up inspections will be carried out in early June.
Yin also called for better supervision of animals at markets, farms and bird sanctuaries and ordered government departments to establish contingency plans to ensure any disease outbreak is dealt with in a timely manner.
Bird flu is a contagious disease of animal origin caused by viruses that normally infect only birds and, less commonly, pigs. Since its reemergence in China in 2003, 20 people have died of the disease, with a further 10 contracting it but surviving.
The latest victim was a 44-year-old woman from Guangdong province, who died on Monday. She contracted the disease after coming into contact with sick poultry.
The two other fatalities this year were a 41-year-old man who died in Guangxi on Feb 20 and a 22-year-old man from Hunan province who died on Jan 24.
Despite the casualties, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday there are no indications that bird flu is becoming a serious problem in China.
"The three recent cases were not unexpected considering the winter season and the fact we know the virus is still circulating in the environment," the WHO's representative in China, Hans Troedsson, said in a statement.