WHO leaves for central China to investigate bird flu

A team of experts for the World Health Organization left Monday for central China to help determine whether three people sickened in a village where an outbreak of bird flu was reported were infected by the virus.

The six-person team of international experts will stay in Hunan for about a week and will assist Chinese health authorities in their investigation, said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing.

They will meet with provincial officials and possibly the two patients, or their families, who became ill in Wantang village, where the government says 545 chickens and ducks died of bird flu last month.

"They'll see where things are at this moment," Wadia said. A 12-year-old girl died Oct. 17 after developing a high fever and authorities have not ruled out that the H5N1 virus made all three sick.

The girl's 9-year-old brother, who showed the same symptoms, was discharged from a hospital over the weekend. A 36-year-old middle school teacher was said to be recovering.

China has not reported any human cases of the deadly H5N1 strain, which has killed at least 64 people in Asia since 2003, two-thirds of them in Vietnam. Most are known to have come in contact with infected birds.

Health experts have warned that the virus could mutate into a form that can easily be passed between people, possibly sparking a flu pandemic that could kill millions, reports the AP. I.L.

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