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China needs better education about bird flu -expert

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Mar 28 (Reuters) China needs better public education about the dangers of bird flu to ensure people who are infected receive timely treatment, a Chinese medical expert today said.

In the two most recent human deaths, the victims waited too long before being treated, said Zhong Nanshan, a SARS expert and president of the Chinese Medical Association.

"We have to educate the public, that once you have fever and have had contact with poultry, you have to go to the hospital and have a check-up," Zhong told reporters on the sidelines of a respiratory diseases conference.

"Of course, for the majority of people it's not a problem, but we have to draw their attention to it, but not frighten them," he added.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has infected 16 people in China, of whom 11 have died. The virus is now endemic in poultry across much of the world's most populous nation, despite widespread culling of birds and mass vaccinations of fowl.

The two latest victims, - a 32-year-old man in the southern city of Guangzhou and a 28-year-old woman in Shanghai, - died earlier this month. Both had had contact with live poultry before they died, Zhong said.

That suggested there was a problem with controls to prevent infected birds from being sold at markets, Zhong said.

"Vaccinations don't fully cover all poultry," he said.

China has defended both its vaccine quality and campaign to inoculate billions of birds from accusations the vaccinations were "masking" the virus, which has killed at least 105 people in Asia and the Middle East since 2003.

The risk of poultry without symptoms came to light after the death of the Guangzhou man. Officials said he probably caught the disease from live birds.

Another worry is that patients are delaying treatment because they are worried by high medical fees, even though the government has said it will cover the cost of all human bird flu cases.

The influential Chinese magazine Caijing said the Shanghai woman had not had a chest X-ray because she could not afford it.

"The hospital should treat those patients without pre-payment," Zhong said.

But people should not panic about bird flu, he said.

"It has a very high mortality, but it is individual cases, not a pandemic," Zhong said. "There's no evidence in China at the moment of transmission between humans." REUTERS SB SP1340

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