2,100 Chinese geese sick with bird flu, quarter of them died

A bird flu outbreak sickened 2,100 geese in eastern China and killed about a quarter of them, a U.N. official said Tuesday, in the country's second outbreak reported in a week. The Agriculture Ministry confirmed Monday that the birds died of the H5N1 virus near Tianchang, a city in Anhui province, said Noureddin Mona, the China representative for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The ministry did not say where or when the geese were infected, Mona said.

A Chinese government report to the World Organization for Animal Health, posted on the Web site of the Paris-based group, said the outbreak was detected Oct. 20. It said 140,000 birds had been vaccinated and that officials imposed quarantines and took other precautions.

According to Mona, about 45,000 birds have been destroyed within a three-mile (four-kilometer) radius of the site in an effort to contain the outbreak.

"We should view this new outbreak as very serious," Mona said.

Bird flu has killed more than 60 people and tens of millions of chickens in Asia since surfacing in 2003. Most recently, Russia, Turkey, England and Romania have reported the disease in birds.

China has not reported any human infections and health officials were downplaying the seriousness of the outbreaks.

"There's no need right now to panic," the newspaper China Business News quoted Zeng Guang, a scientist at China's Center for Disease Control, as saying.

The infected birds in Anhui were transported from neighboring Jiangsu province in mid-October, the Asian Wall Street Journal reported, citing Tao Jingping, an official with the Tianchang Veterinary Station.

Tao said the owner called Jiangsu health officials who "dealt with the epidemic as a normal poultry disease but failed to contain the infection," according to the Journal.

When telephoned by The Associated Press, Tao said she could only confirm that 2,100 bird were sickened. She said any other information had to come from the Tianchang city government.

A man who answered the phone at the city government said some birds had died but would not elaborate. Calls to the Agriculture Bureau in Jiangsu weren't answered.

Officials stepped up preventive measures last week after H5N1 killed 2,600 chickens and ducks in a breeding facility in China's northern region of Inner Mongolia, sparking fears that the virus might spread to humans.

Health experts have warned that H5N1 could mutate into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans and cause a global pandemic that could kill millions.

The main cause of human infections is direct contact with poultry in slaughtering, butchering or cooking, or surfaces contaminated by their droppings, health officials say.

There is no evidence that properly cooked chicken or eggs can sicken people, according to the AP.

Such public health threats have been a politically sensitive subject for China's leaders since they were criticized for their slow response to severe acute respiratory syndrome, which first emerged in the country's south in 2002.

SARS killed nearly 800 people worldwide before subsiding in 2003.


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