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Officials confident bird flu in check
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-05 23:51

Leading officials in the fight to quell bird flu Thursday affirmed China's confidence in reining in the devastating avian infection, thanks to the country's ever intensifying prevention and control measures.

Since the country has basically brought the epidemic under control in all identified outbreak areas, China is looking to improve its animal epidemic prevention system to guarantee poultry safety for the long haul, officials said.

China's Vice-Minister of Agriculture Liu Jian speaks at a press conference on bird flu in Beijing February 5, 2004. [newsphoto]

Elsewhere in Asia, the human death toll from the bird flu epidemic rose to 16 yesterday, when Viet Nam said a 16-year-old girl in the south of the country had become its 11th bird flu victim. The other deaths all occurred in Thailand, which now has 19 suspected cases.

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Vice-Minister of Agriculture Liu Jian said between January 27 -- when the first bird flu outbreak was confirmed -- and Wednesday, China had reported 23 occurrences of the contagion, which prompted culling of 1.215 million fowl, mainly chicken and ducks.

But yesterday the ministry confirmed the previously suspected outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in East China's Anhui Province and Jiangxi Province and reported four new suspected bird flu cases -- in Dongxiang County in Jiangxi Province, Shilin County in Yunnan Province, Luoding and Haifeng County in South China's Guangdong Province.

All the cases have been basically contained, and no humans in China has contracted the disease, said Liu, also a leading member of a national command headquarters team battling the disease.

Nonetheless, Liu conceded the infection control maintains still an arduous task for China, partly because Chinese poultry farms are sporadically distributed in a vast network throughout its territory, where animal disease prevention systems are sometimes "weak and vulnerable.''

Although massive efforts of the public can help halt the contagion, from long-term point of view, it is a robust and sound animal disease prevention and control regime that decisively stems such lethal infections from happening and spreading, he said.

The official said China will strengthen its systems through plugging loopholes detected. The ministry has instated 300 animal disease surveillance stations across the country, in addition to 147 disease monitoring points along its border line, according to Liu.

In the years ahead, China will invest more in bolstering its animal protection system, he said.

Roy Wadia, spokesman of the World Health Organization Beijing Office, said international experts will soon visit China's bird flu-tainted areas to look into and advise the nation on its human and bird surveillance systems.

As to areas currently free of bird flu, Liu said the country will lose no time in taking control measures to protect key poultry producers, breeders and large poultry processing households.

In terms of bird flu disease reporting, Liu said China has implemented a daily mechanism based on a diagnosis procedure that includes initial clinical diagnosis by experts, suspect case confirmations by provincial labs, virus strain identifications by a national reference lab and final confirmation by the ministry.

Governments at various levels have been required never to cover up any outbreaks, and the national command headquarters has been deploying inspection missions to check up on the work in all affected regions, he said.

The government had established sound communication with United Nations agencies and between government departments to check outbreaks.

Since the first confirmed bird flu case, China has kept the Beijing offices of WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization well informed of epidemic developments, Liu said.

The vice-minister said with the full support of the people, and the experience and expertise the country accumulated in its fight against the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), China is able to do an excellent job in controlling the bird flu epidemic.

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