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Chinese man dies of bird flu; virus spreads in Europe

Written by: Staff

HONG KONG, Mar 5: A man has died from bird flu in southern China, the ninth death from the H5N1 virus in the country, the official Xinhua news agency reported today.

The man, identified as a 32-year-old with the surname Lao, was the 15th human bird flu case in China. He died in Guangdong province, which borders Hong Kong.

In Europe, France announced a new case of H5N1 in a wild duck in the east of the country, while another test on a wild swan showed the virus had spread several hundred kilometres to the south.

France's poultry sector, Europe's biggest, is losing 40 million euros (48 million dollars) a month after an outbreak of H5N1 at a poultry farm. The news prompted more than 40 countries to impose curbs on French poultry products, including foie gras.

In eastern Europe, Poland detected its first case of H5 bird flu in two swans found dead. Further tests would be needed to determine if it was the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of the virus or a less dangerous form, experts said.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed at least 94 people in East Asia and the Middle East since late 2003. Victims contract the virus through close contact with sick poultry.

However, scientists fear the virus could mutate to spread from person to person, triggering a global pandemic.

Lao had symptoms of fever and pneumonia on Feb. 22 and died on March 2, Xinhua said. The symptoms appeared after Lao made several visits to an agricultural market where he spent a long time near ''a live poultry slaughtering site'', Xinhua said.

Of the 14 previous cases in China, eight were fatal, two are under treatment and the other four have recovered.

US FEARS China has reported more than 30 outbreaks of the H5N1 strain in birds across the country in the past year. None of these has been in Guangdong, but neighbouring Hong Kong has confirmed several cases, fuelling suspicions that authorities were not being truthful about the situation in Guangdong province.

Hong Kong would suspend imports of all live poultry from Guangdong for three weeks starting from Monday, a Hong Kong government spokesman said. Day old chicks and pet birds would also be barred from import, he said.

Almost all fresh chickens come from mainland China and more than 98 percent of frozen poultry meat imports from Jan-Aug of 2005 came from China.

The bird flu virus made its first known jump to humans in Hong Kong in 1997, killing 6 people.

The virus has infected birds in at least 14 new countries over the past month, spreading across Europe and reaching Egypt and West Africa, fuelling fears for the poultry industry and human health.

US Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said on Saturday the United States was preparing for an outbreak of avian flu and assured consumers that poultry remains safe to eat.

''There is no way to put a big cage around the United States.

I think it is fair to assume we'll deal with ... avian influenza,'' said Johanns. ''We could see it in domestic flocks as ell as (wild) birds.'' The virus is spreading further in France. The agriculture ministry said tests for H5N1 had proved positive on a wild duck found on February 28 in the Ain region, where the first case of the deadly strain in domestic farm birds in the European Union was found last month at a turkey farm.

Laboratory tests by Afssa, France's national agency for nutritional safety, also confirmed H5N1 in the wild swan found on February 28 in the Mediterranean Bouches-du-Rhone region, the ministry said in another Web site statement dated Saturday.

Poland said two swans found dead on the banks of the River Vistula in the northern city of Torun tested positive for H5.

Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz was quoted by news agency PAP on Sunday as saying he would have chicken for dinner -- seen as an attempt to protect the poultry industry.


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