China Expects More Bird
Flu Via Poultry Transporting
By Lindsay Beck
(Reuters) -- China, which has reported some 30 outbreaks of the deadly strain of bird flu in 2005, said on Wednesday that the country could see more of the disease as transport of live poultry increases over the Lunar New Year holidays.
Jia Youling, director-general of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary bureau, said no new cases of the H5N1 virus have been reported for 15 days after a rash of outbreaks in the past 2 months, but he cautioned against complacency. "There is still the possibility for sporadic outbreaks in winter this year or spring next year and we are still facing great challenges in bird flu control," Jia told a news conference.
China has been scrambling to curb outbreaks with mass vaccinations of its 14 billion poultry and with an education campaign to encourage farmers and local officials to report new cases.We predict that during the New Year there will be greater consumption of domestic birds and more frequent long-haul transportation, so there might be a possibility that there will be fresh outbreaks as a result of this," Jia said. Chinese New Year falls at the end of January. China was trying to guard against that with stepped-up vaccination efforts, more frequent inspections, curbing the slaughter of live chickens in markets, he said.
But on Wednesday, the eastern province of Anhui -- which has reported 2 human cases of bird flu in 2005 -- lifted a ban on the slaughtering of live poultry in all markets, claiming that the H5N1 strain of the disease had been brought under control, the official Xinhua News Agency said. Live poultry dealers were encouraged to resume operations, according to the province's headquarters for bird flu prevention, Xinhua reported after Jia had spoken.
However, local officials would tighten supervision and quarantine procedures over live poultry markets after the lifting of the ban, the news agency added without elaborating. Beijing has pledged openness in fighting bird flu after it was widely criticised for its cover-up of the SARS virus in 2003, but Health Minister Gao Qiang has said rural doctors might be ill-equipped or ill-trained to detect cases.
Jia reiterated the government's stance that it has not covered up any bird flu outbreaks, and said in fact it was facing the opposite problem -- farmers were falsely reporting the virus in hopes of receiving compensation. "As every farmer and local official must know, they cannot hide any outbreaks for long because if they hide outbreaks it will eventually spread to other regions and there will be an even bigger impact on the local economy," Jia said.
China has also confirmed 5 human infections from bird flu, but it was still facing a mystery over the source of infection in 2 of those cases, which occurred in places where no poultry outbreaks had been reported. The World Health Organisation has said that could mean the disease in birds was going undetected, but Jia said samples of birds taken in both the cases -- in the eastern province of Anhui and the southern province of Guangxi -- tested negative for the virus.
The infected people in those cases may have contracted the disease through droppings of wild birds or through water contaminated by infected wild birds, Jia said.
Xinhua reported on Wednesday that the State Forestry Administration has established an arm to monitor bird flu among migratory and wild birds. "Most bird flu-hit areas have wetlands nearby and the epidemic often breaks out sometime after the arrivals of migratory birds," Xinhua quoted Zhao Liangping, head of the monitoring station, as saying.



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