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China Says It's Free of Human Cases of Bird Flu


Chinese health officials say there are no cases of human infection from bird flu in the country. The officials also claim they are able to handle any outbreak of the disease.

Health officials in Beijing told journalists Friday that three recent outbreaks of avian flu among poultry have been stamped out, and that no human cases have been found in the country.

But Jia Youling, China's chief veterinary officer, says the country is still on high alert. Mr. Jia says the top priority is to prevent flu outbreaks among domesticated birds. He says that if officials fail to do that, sooner or later the disease will be transmitted from birds to humans.

Officials also ruled out bird flu as the cause of death of a girl in Hunan province recently, and say she died of pneumonia. The World Health Organization has asked for information on the tests performed on the girl.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu virus is lethal to birds, but is not easily passed to human beings. The WHO and other international health agencies fear the virus could turn into a form that is passed easily from one human to another. That could lead to a global flu pandemic, threatening millions of people.

Mr. Jia praised China's prevention system, but said the government still had problems to overcome. He noted that China has a large population of migrating birds, and that they could pass the virus on to domesticated poultry. He said another problem is that much of China's poultry is raised on small farms that are unregulated and unsanitary.

China is currently carrying out large-scale vaccinations of its poultry, but officials said there is still a possibility of flu outbreaks in some provinces.

In 2003 China covered up the original appearance of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which spread to much of the world and killed about 800 people. But Chinese officials insist they will be forthcoming with any information about bird flu, and have threatened to punish anyone who tries to conceal an outbreak of the disease anywhere in the country.

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