China reports 16th and 17th bird flu outbreaks

China on Monday reported its 16th and 17th bird flu outbreaks in poultry in its north and a central province despite a nationwide effort to vaccinate billions of farm birds. The report came a day after President Hu Jintao said he and visiting U.S. President George W. Bush agreed to work together on global and regional flu prevention and treatment efforts.

An outbreak on Nov. 15 in Hanguerhe, a town in Molidawada County in Inner Mongolia, killed 176 chickens, ducks and geese, Xinhua said. It said an outbreak the next day in Shishou, a city in Hubei, killed 3,500 geese.

Authorities destroyed a total of 7,002 birds to contain the outbreaks, Xinhua said, citing the Agriculture Ministry.

China has reported new outbreaks of the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu in poultry almost daily despite an effort launched last week to vaccinate all of its 14 billion chickens, ducks and other farm birds. Experts say migrating geese and other wild birds probably are spreading the virus.

The country has reported two confirmed bird flu cases in humans, a woman who died in Anhui province in the east and a 9-year-old boy in the central province of Hunan who recovered. The boy's 12-year-old sister, who died, is a suspected case.

On Friday, the government said dozens of farmers and villagers who had close contact with those people were released from medical observation after showing no symptoms of the disease.

China has imposed increasingly strict measures in an effort to contain the virus, killing millions of birds, closing live poultry markets and ordering inspections of shipments of birds nationwide. Also Monday, the government newspaper China Daily said provincial governments have been ordered to report new outbreaks directly to China's national Cabinet within four hours of discovering them.

It said local officials were given two hours to report outbreaks to provincial authorities, and said any who fail to do so will be fired and prosecuted. Bird flu has killed at least 67 people Asia since 2003, when the H5N1 strain became entrenched in poultry, reports the AP. I.L.

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