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Nation on alert against outbreak of bird flu
By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-09-30 00:55

Seasonal wild bird migrations, plus the persistence of deadly avian influenza virus in some of the country's neighbours, have prompted China to prepare for a possible outbreak of bird flu.

In its latest effort to prevent the spread of the disease, the Ministry of Agriculture has warned bird flu may strike at any time as autumn and winter are key periods for bird migrations

A spokesman of the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday said wild waterfowl that follow patterns of seasonal migration threaten to spread the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

A position paper issued by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also said on Tuesday the existence of reservoirs of infection (in ducks and, potentially, wild birds and pigs) presents a serious challenge to eradication.

The ministry spokesman said China has not detected any cases since the July outbreak in the East China province of Anhui was eradicated.

But the epidemic, still haunting some Asian countries, poses a risk to China, the ministry said in a circular released on Tuesday.

The H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus has killed 20 Vietnamese and 10 Thais this year, while millions of birds have been culled.

Fears of human-to-human transmission have flared in Thailand, which said on Tuesday it had the first known probable case of one person infecting another with bird flu, but insisted it was an isolated incident caused by prolonged contact, Reuters reported yesterday.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture urged local governments to stay on high alert.

The ministry said in its circular that poultry should be immunized more strongly in key areas and quarantined before and after they are butchered.

To thoroughly plug any loopholes, the ministry said disinfection should be strengthened on farms, slaughterhouses, markets, refrigerator warehouses and transports.

In addition to enhancing epidemic surveillance, the circular said contingency plans, including reservation of vaccines and sterilization materials, should be put into place.

The ministry's circular fell short of detailing what to do about the migratory birds.

In its position paper, the FAO recommends against the destruction of wild birds or their habitat. Rather, farm biosecurity must be enhanced.

The FAO China Office in Beijing yesterday said the UN agency has instigated three projects in China to help build up the country's ability to monitor bird flu and control it at the grassroots level.

The FAO said countries which have reservoirs of deadly bird flu viruses in wild birds or domestic waterfowl, control measures must focus on preventing these viruses from entering the domestic chicken population.

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