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Official: Massive bird flu outbreak possible
Updated: 2006-02-26 08:34

China warned of the threat of a massive avian flu outbreak among birds in the country as it reported two new human cases of the virus, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday.

Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin said China culled 23 million fowl in 2005 as it sought to halt the spread of the disease. Of those, 163,000 were found to have the H5N1 strain of bird flu, according to Xinhua.

Du said his ministry would stick to consistent epidemic monitoring, diagnosing and reporting, and strengthen poultry vaccinating and virus testing.

"In view of the current situation, the possibility of a massive bird flu outbreak could not be ruled out," Du said, repeating a similar warning issued earlier this week when he said a big outbreak could occur in the spring.

Chinese farmers raised about 15 billion poultry in 2005, or 21 percent of the world's total, Du said.

Earlier on Saturday, Xinhua reported that two new human cases of bird flu had been diagnosed in the east of the country.

A Chinese girl in eastern Zhejiang province and a woman farmer in neighbouring Anhui province were currently in critical condition, Xinhua cited the Ministry of Health as saying.

The woman farmer, who was diagnosed on Feb. 11 with symptoms of fever and pneumonia, had come into contact with sick and dead poultry, Xinhua said.

The girl, a nine-year-old from Anji County, had visited relatives who kept poultry but it was not clear how she had been infected, Xinhua said.

China's Ministry of Health has reported the two new cases to the World Health Organisation, and to authorities in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and other countries and regions, Xinhua said.

The latest cases brought the total number of human cases of bird flu in China to 14. Eight of those have died while four have recovered.

China has reported more than 30 outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in both poultry and wild birds in a dozen provinces in the past year.

Bird flu is highly contagious among poultry and can spread through an entire flock in hours. It remains difficult for humans to catch but has killed more than 90 people worldwide since late 2003.

So far most human victims of the virus have had direct or indirect contact with infected birds, but there are fears the virus will mutate into a strain easily passed among people, causing a pandemic in which millions could die.

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