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Bird flu death in China sparks worries in Hong Kong

Written by: Staff
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HONG KONG, March 6 (Reuters) The death of a man from avian flu in China's southern Guangdong province, where there are no reported outbreaks in birds, has sparked worries in Hong Kong where experts urged authorities to track down the source.

Most of the 94 people who have died from the H5N1 since late 2003 in East Asia and the Middle East contracted the virus directly from sick poultry.

But the man from Guangdong is among several in China who have died in areas with no reported H5N1 outbreaks in birds. Nine people have died so far in China from H5N1.

Experts in Hong Kong, neighbouring Guangdong, are now demanding to know how thorough surveillance of the disease is in China.

''It may mean that the surveillance system is not good enough to detect such an outbreak, or poultry deaths have not been handled as seriously as human cases, that they are buried or burnt without investigating the cause,'' said infectious disease expert Lo Wing-lok in Hong Kong today.

''There is a case for the Guangdong provincial government to come clean on the situation of poultry infection in Guangdong.'' Guangdong shares a land border with Hong Kong, where the H5N1 virus made its first known jump to man in 1997, killing six people.

After China confirmed that the man died of H5N1 late on Sunday, Hong Kong announced a suspension of all live chicken imports from Guangdong for three weeks from today.

The man, who died on Thursday, had apparently stayed for a lengthy period at a nearby live poultry slaughter site where he was carrying out a market survey.

Hong Kong newspapers said Chinese authorities had tried to stop mainland media from reporting the death of the man until it was confirmed to be H5N1.

Although most human victims of H5N1 contracted it directly from birds, experts fear that the virus could mutate and spread easily among people, triggering a pandemic.

MORE REUTERS OM PM1748

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