China vaccinates 320 million poultry in a province hard-hit by bird flu

China has vaccinated 320 million poultry in a province hard-hit by bird flu, officials said, as Asia-Pacific leaders called Wednesday for better cooperation to head off a potential pandemic. Chinese officials also said bird flu antibodies had been found in a 9-year-old boy who fell ill in a central China village where an outbreak was reported. It was unclear whether he had been infected with the dangerous H5N1 virus strain.

If that is confirmed, he would mainland China's first case of the strain that has killed at least 64 people in Asia since 2003. "At this point, there are strong indications that he may be H5N1," said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing. "But the investigation is still underway, and no conclusion has been reached."

A day earlier, China announced an ambitious plan to vaccinate its entire poultry stock, 14 billion fowl, against bird flu following 11 outbreaks in poultry over the past month. Details were not given. Northeastern China's Liaoning province ordered all farm birds vaccinated early this month, said Fu Jingwu, deputy director of the provincial Animal Health Supervision and Management Bureau.

"All the poultry that's supposed to be vaccinated has been vaccinated, 320 million birds," Fu said.

The province has also destroyed more than 10 million chickens, ducks and other birds.

Meanwhile, government ministers at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Busan, South Korea, urged more regional and international information-sharing and response systems to combat the bird flu threat.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged governments to improve communications and to encourage the private sector to help prepare for outbreaks before they happen.

"New global pandemics, like avian influenza, require new, concerted action," she told APEC trade and foreign ministers. "We must increase the transparency of our political systems. We need to improve our ability to communicate accurate, relevant information quickly to the international community, and we must encourage our private sector to help us prepare for outbreaks before they happen."

Also Wednesday, Vietnamese authorities reported bird flu outbreaks in two more provinces, northern Vinh Phuc and central Quang Ngai, bringing to 12 the number of cities and provinces affected in the latest wave, which began about a month ago.

Vietnam is in middle of an aggressive campaign to cull all poultry in most of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The government is paying farmers about half the market value, and any birds found alive in the cities' main urban areas after Monday will be killed without compensation, authorities have said.

In Taiwan, officials on Wednesday expressed doubt about British tests that found the H5N1 virus in a group of finch-like birds imported from the island.

Taiwan's top animal health official, Watson Sung, said tests at the farm that supplied the birds had found no evidence of the virus. Taiwan will send a delegation to Britain to clear up the situation, Sung said, reports the AP. I.L.

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