Vol. 5 Num 350 Mon. May 23, 2005  
Front Page

China declares bird flu emergency

China has ordered the immediate vaccination of three million birds among other emergency measures to stop the spread of bird flu after discovering the H5N1 virus had killed some migratory birds, state media said yesterday.

The Ministry of Agriculture announced Saturday that the deaths of migratory birds found in the western province of Qinghai were caused by bird flu, marking the first time the virus has been found in China since last year.

Provincial authorities launched the massive vaccination campaign to cover the estimated three million chickens, ducks and other fowl in the province, the Xinhua news agency said.

Poultry in farms around the affected area had been mostly vaccinated by Saturday, Xinhua said.

The dead birds were found on the edges of Lake Qinghai, where the presence of migratory birds is a tourist attraction.

The area has been sealed off for more than 10 days, with police stationed there around the clock to prevent tourists from entering, the Beijing News said.

The reports did not say when the dead birds were found, but said the agriculture ministry received notice from the Qinghai agriculture officials on May 4.

Veterinary institutions across China were also asked to determine the species and territory of migratory birds in their regions and to take precautionary measures.

The agriculture ministry has asked local governments to prohibit people from entering the habitats of migratory birds and to prevent contact between migratory birds and poultry, Xinhua said.

The ministry urged that any new cases be reported quickly to the authorities.

Officials from the agriculture ministry said some of the migratory birds found dead in Qinghai were believed to have come there from Southeast Asia, Xinhua said.

According to China's national bird flu reference laboratory, the virus that had spread among birds in China is different from the virus detected in Southeast Asia, which is more deadly and possibly contains a gene for human contraction, Xinhua said.Cui Shangjin, an expert from the national laboratory, said people in China need not worry as the country had a "mature" bird flu diagnosis, monitoring and prevention system, according to Xinhua.

"People need not be too worried but should be confident that the new cases can be brought under control as effective measures have been taken by the government," Cui was quoted as saying.

China successfully brought 50 cases of bird flu under control last year. No human infections have been reported there.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been discovered in eight countries since late 2003, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

The disease has claimed the lives of at least 53 people, including 37 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and one Cambodian.

World health officials warned last week of major doubts about their ability to detect and tackle a more virulent strain of the influenza virus before it spreads globally causing millions of deaths.

More than 120 million birds were culled in two huge outbreaks of the virus throughout Asia last year.