The World Health Organization says China lacks an adequate reporting and detection system for eradicating the threat of avian flu, and says time is running short. Meanwhile, China and other Asian nations are taking ever more extensive measures to curb the spread of the virus.
The Chinese government announced Friday that it was setting up a national command center to monitor the spread of bird flu. However, Dr. Julie Hall, a World Health Organization specialist in Beijing, says the country's reporting system is still inadequate and may not be able to catch cases of the disease on small farms in time to eradicate it fully.
Dr. Hall said that China, like other Asian countries, contains many small household farms raising just a few chickens or ducks. She says a system must be set up that reassures these farmers they won't be hurt financially if they report the presence of sick birds.
"For some of these people, destroying the few chickens that they have will put them into poverty and governments around the world have to recognize this and be able to rapidly compensate those people so that there is an incentive for them to actually report, because this is a potentially global public health problem," she explained.
China has confirmed cases of avian flu among ducks or chickens in three provinces, and suspected cases in two more plus Shanghai, the country's most populous city.
So far, China is thought to have culled at least 140,000 birds. However, Dr. Hall also argues that Chinese officials have yet to demonstrate that they are conducting the cull in a safe way.
"We need to ensure that the culling process is done safely and doesn't pose an additional risk and that the quarantine measures...are being taken very seriously to prevent an environmental contamination and futher spread of this disease to other animals," she said.
The WHO is providing anti-influenza drugs to workers in Thailand and Vietnam who are participating in the mass cull of birds there.
China, like other Asian countries, is taking increased measures to prevent the spread of the disease. Poultry shipments from all six infected Chinese regions have been halted.
China separately reported a fourth new case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome on Saturday. It said the man, from Guangdong Province, had already been released from the hospital.
Vietnam has also enacted a ban against the transport of poultry within the country, and officials have promised to increase compensation to farmers who lose animals.
Malaysia, which has yet to report any cases of bird flu, has stepped up inspections of farms and markets.
And the prime minister of Thailand has urged citizens to eat more chicken, saying it is safe as long as it is well cooked. He said he would personally pay the equivalent of 75,000 U.S. dollars to anyone who became ill from eating chicken.
Confirmed outbreaks of bird flu have affected poultry flocks in ten Asian countries, and millions of birds have been killed. In addition, at least eight people in Vietnam and Thailand have died after coming into contact with sick birds.
Health officials are particularly worried that the virus could change into a strain capable of being passed from human to human.