WHO experts to visit bird flu-infected village, hospital in China

World Health Organization experts on Tuesday were visiting a bird flu-infected village in central China to help investigate why a 12-year-old girl died and two others were sickened, the Chinese government said.

The team from Beijing was going to Wangtan, a village in Hunan province, where the government says 545 chickens and ducks died of bird flu last month, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

They will also visit the Hunan Provincial Children's Hospital, where the 12-year-old girl and her brother were treated for pneumonia symptoms, it said.

The girl died Oct. 17 with a high fever, while the 9-year-old boy was released last weekend. A 36-year-old school teacher was still hospitalized but was said to be recovering.

Health officials said they initially tested negative for the virulent H5N1 bird flu virus, but have reopened the case and asked WHO to help.

The WHO team will "look into any gaps that remain," said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing.

"They will go back in time and review all the steps that have been taken, see if anything has been excluded or if any information that has been collected and not recognized as important," Wadia said. "They're piecing together the whole puzzle and trying to reach a conclusion."

The WHO team will also see medical facilities near the village and meet with officials in Changsha, Hunan's capital, Xinhua said. The visit comes one day after Anhui province in the east announced its second outbreak in poultry, China's ninth in the past month.

Experts have warned that if China cannot control repeated outbreaks of bird flu in its massive poultry population, human cases of the disease are inevitable.

Bird flu has killed at least 64 people in Asia since 2003. Most cases have been linked to direct contact with infected birds.

Health experts worry that the virus could mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between people and spark a global flu pandemic that could kill millions.

If China reports a human case, "it's not something that's earth-shattering in the grand scheme of things because there are human cases elsewhere," Wadia said. "It would not be a surprising development. It just means surveillance systems are better now," reports the AP. I.L.

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