China issues bird flu alert after woman dies

By Phyllis Xu

YANJIAO, China (Reuters) - China issued a bird flu alert on Wednesday after a woman died of the virus, the first such death in the country in almost a year, and closed poultry markets for disinfecting in a province surrounding Beijing.

The World Health Organization said the woman’s death, China’s 21st to date, appeared to be an isolated case.

The 19-year-old died of the H5N1 virus after gutting nine ducks, which experts say highlights the role and risks of waterfowl in the transmission of the virus to humans.

In Yanjiao in Hebei province, where the dead woman had bought the ducks, poultry markets were closed and the sale of live birds stopped as workers in masks and white coats sprayed disinfectant.

Tests on 15 people who worked in the poultry market were negative. Over 100 people had also been in close contact with the patient, and one nurse who treated her had come down with a fever but had now recovered, the official Xinhua agency said.

“We are concerned by any case of human H5N1 infection, however, this single case, which appears to have occurred during the slaughtering and preparation of poultry, does not change our risk assessment,” the WHO said in a statement.

“WHO expects the ministry will continue to keep it updated on this case, and is prepared to offer technical assistance if requested,” it added, referring to the Health Ministry.

The virus is generally more active during the cooler months between October and March, although the new Chinese case points to holes in surveillance of the virus in poultry.

Chinese Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qunan was quoted in state media as saying the government would step up monitoring.

“This year we must, on the basis of what we have done in the past, increase monitoring for the transmission of the highly pathogenic bird flu virus in humans,” Mao said.

In Beijing, workers fanned out to inspect poultry markets and slaughterhouses in the capital city after the government issued a bird flu alert, Xinhua said. It has also banned imports of live poultry from other parts of the country, except under license.

NO SIGNS OF DISEASE IN BIRDS

Lo Wing-lok, an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, said the case highlighted the danger of ducks in the spread of H5N1. Many species of ducks are natural reservoirs of the virus and unlike chickens, they show no signs of disease.

“The nine ducks the woman purchased were probably carrying the virus and she was exposed. Duck innards have high concentration of the virus and cleaning nine of them is so risky,” Lo told Reuters.

Paul Chan, microbiologist at the Chinese University in Hong Kong, said it was worrying this case was not accompanied by the detection of the virus in poultry nearby.  Continued…

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