Bird flu claimed its first victim in China in almost a year when a woman infected with the H5N1 strain died in Beijing on Monday, the local health bureau said yesterday.
Huang Yanqing, 19, a native of Fujian province, died around 7:20, the Beijing municipal health bureau said in a press release. She fell ill on Dec 24 and was hospitalized three days later.
Experts from the Beijing Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences tested Huang's virus samples. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which reviewed the results, confirmed that the sample tested positive for the H5N1 strain, the bureau said.
The Ministry of Health, too, said Huang had been infected with the highly pathogenic avian influenza.
Central health authorities have informed the World Health Organization (WHO), and the health departments of Hong Kong and Macao about the case.
The authorities held an emergency meeting in Beijing on Monday evening to deal with a possible outbreak of the disease. The capital has put all medical institutions on high alert and intensified bird flu prevention and control measures, including disinfecting and isolating the patient's house and the hospital wards she was taken to.
Huang came to Beijing in February 2008 and used to live at Dongcun village in Sanjianfang town of Chaoyang district.
She and two of her provincial natives bought nine ducks from a market in Langfang in neighboring Hebei province on December 19. They got the ducks slaughtered at the market after which Huang reportedly cleaned the ducks' internal organs, the health bureau said.
She gave a duck each to her father, uncle and a friend, and kept the others for herself.
"According to initial investigation, 13 people ate the ducks but Huang was the only one to fall ill," said Zhao Qingchao, an official with the Langfang local government.
The ducks came from Jixian county in Tianjin municipality.
Internal organs are the most contagious parts in a bird infected by the avian flu, and health experts have constantly warned people not to touch them or at least put on kitchen gloves before cleaning them.
The Beijing health bureau said 116 people had come in contact with the patient. Fourteen of them are her family members and neighbors, and the rest medical staff of the three hospitals in Beijing's Tongzhou district she was taken to.
A nurse with Guanzhuang Hospital developed fever but has recovered since, and the rest of the 116 people have not showed any symptoms of the disease.
Beijing is capable of dealing with an outbreak of any major disease, said Jin Dapeng, former head of the capital's health bureau. "Huang's case was detected timely and handled well and every effort should be made to prevent an outbreak," he said.
The WHO said it expects the Ministry of Health to continue to keep it updated on the case, and is prepared to offer technical assistance if requested.
It said a resurgence of human cases of H5N1 is "likely over the next few months" as cooler weather in the northern hemisphere appears to favor the spread of the virus.
The H5N1 virus has killed more than 247 people in a dozen countries since it resurfaced in Asia in 2003, according to WHO.
Experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate to reach a state where it can be transmitted from person to person and threaten the lives of millions of people across the world.
The last reported victim of bird flu on the Chinese mainland was a 44-year-old woman, who died in Guangdong in February 2008. In all, 20 people have fallen victim to the disease in the country.
China has the world's largest concentration of poultry, with hundreds of millions of farmers raising them in their backyards.
Last month, a baby girl was diagnosed with the H9N2 bird flu strain and was admitted to a hospital in Hong Kong, where authorities culled thousands of birds.
In mid-December, agricultural authorities in Jiangsu province culled 377,000 birds after bird flu was detected in a couple of farms.
An eight-year-old girl in northern Vietnam has tested positive for H5N1 - the first human case in that country in nearly a year, Vietnamese health officials said yesterday.
The girl from Thanh Hoa province, 160 km south of Hanoi, was admitted to hospital on Dec 27 with high fever and other symptoms after eating a goose raised by the family, said Nguyen Ngoc Thanh, acting director of the provincial health department. She is reported to be recovering.
The disease has killed 52 of the 106 people who have contracted it in Vietnam since 2003, according to official figures.
Agencies contributed to the story