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China Reports Country's First Death From Bird Flu This Year

China's Health Ministry says a 22-year-old man from the central province of Hunan has died of bird flu, the country's first death from the disease this year.

In a statement Monday posted on its Web site, the ministry says the man first showed symptoms of the disease in mid-January and died more than a week later on January 24.

Health officials say samples taken from the man confirm that he had the deadly H5N1 strain of the disease. The ministry says that individuals who came into contact with him were under close supervision and reported no signs that the disease was spreading.

The statement did not say why it has taken nearly four weeks for news of his death to reach the public. Hunan province was one of the areas in China hardest hit by freak winter storms in January and early February.

The statement also did not say how the man contracted the disease.

In early December, a man in eastern Jiangsu province died from bird flu and passed the disease to his father. His father recovered, but Chinese authorities have warned of a "very high" possibility of outbreaks of bird flu during the country's winter months

Not including today's reported death, the World Health Organization says 27 people in China have already died from the deadly H5N1 strain of disease since 2003.

Since 2003, the disease has claimed 227 lives worldwide, most of them in Asia. Most bird flu cases involve close contact with infected poultry.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.