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Scientists tracking source of bird flu in China
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-02-16 15:44

The coming spring will also likely bring the fear of widespread avian influenza across North China.

Beginning next month, migratory birds will begin flocking to the north, possibly carrying with them the virus that has swept across Asia.

Officials and experts are working on ways to reduce the possible spread of the H5N1 virus by the wild birds.

"Although there is not enough evidence to confirm that the migratory birds spread the deadly virus in China, they have been highly suspected by scientists," said Lei Fumin, a bird researcher at the Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Science.

Wild migratory birds are also regarded as a possible source of the H5N1 bird flu.

Lei and his institute have kicked off a research project to track the source of bird flu in China. The project has been approved by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Lei told China Daily Sunday.

Unlike the arduous process of tracking the source of the SARS virus, Lei expects scientists will soon find the source of the bird flu, maybe in one week, Lei noted.

Determining the source of the virus will contribute greatly to preventing and controlling the epidemic, said Lei.

Meanwhile, Lei's project will also figure out how to effectively prevent migratory birds from spreading the virus as they fly north.

Still, efforts are being made both at the beginning and end of the birds' annual migration to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible.

Experts are also working to control any possible spread in areas where the birds are likely to touch down.

The many measures taken include strict prohibitions of contact between poultry or people and wild birds in Poyang Lake State Natural Reserve, East China's Jiangxi Province.

People's activities are strictly limited in the reserve to ensure the more than 300,000 birds, including swans, that will pass through there will be free of the virus before they take off again in early March.

And in the bird-flu-virus-free Beijing, an important region where the migratory birds will pass and station, strict surveillance has been set up by the local government in spots where birds usually reach.

Among the more than 350 kinds of birds that can be found in Beijing, more than 250 are migratory.

Education campaigns are underway in Beijing to prevent close contact between people and migratory birds and to prevent any contact between migratory birds and poultry populations.

Meanwhile, Lei Fumin suggested that people should also try their best to protect the spots where the migratory birds may go to, and not destroy these spots themselves or with their poultry.

Still, people are still quite passive as the annual migration nears because these birds are hard to control and there is much uncertainty in regards to their moving and settling sites.

"We still only have a little knowledge of the routes migratory birds take and need to better understand their activities," said Jiang Zhigang, another researcher from the Chinese Academy of Science.

Zhang Jinguo, deputy head of the Beijing Zoo which has more than 3,000 birds, said he has no good idea on how to prevent the migratory birds from flying to his zoo and possibly bringing the highly contagious virus.

Zhang said he plans to leave food available in spots which are far from the zoo birds to attract the migrant ones, "but I am really powerless if they still prefer to eat food with the native ones."

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture reported two more suspected cases of bird flu in the city of Huanggang, Central China's Hubei Province, and Songming County, Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Four more reports of suspected H5N1 bird flu cases in South China have been confirmed by the National Bird Flu Reference Laboratory.

The confirmed bird flu cases were reported in Jiangcheng District of Yangjiang, Maogang District of Maoming and Doumen District of Zhuhai, all in Guangdong Province; and Xingning District of Nanning in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Internationally, a teenage boy died of bird flu in Thailand, taking Asia's toll to at least 20 by yesterday, ahead of emergency regional talks on ways to battle the rampaging virus.

Thailand officials also confirmed that some migratory birds found dead in the country carried the avian virus.

India is to host a seminar of South Asian nations today to work out ways to tackle the bird flu outbreak.

Ekaphan Pongkhan, 13, succumbed after more than two weeks in hospital, the latest victim of the virulent H5N1 virus that has now killed six Thais and 14 Vietnamese.

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