Chinese officials warn bird flu threat to humans growing

Chinese officials warned Monday that the bird flu threat to humans was growing as the winter flu months approach and ordered officials to stockpile emergency supplies and respond more quickly to outbreaks in poultry. The announcement came after China reported its 16th and 17th bird flu cases in poultry despite a nationwide effort to vaccinate billions of chickens, ducks and other farm birds. The country has confirmed at least one death from the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu and a possible case in a 12-year-old girl who died.

"There is a growing threat to human health," Yin Chengjie, the deputy agriculture minister, said at a news conference. "Although some cases ... have been controlled effectively, the whole situation of avian influenza control is still severe."

Yin noted the large number of Chinese families that raise poultry at home in close contact with humans and said the virus's virulence, or its ability to cause illness, appears to be growing. He pointed to the string of recent outbreaks in wild ducks and geese, in contrast to earlier cases that struck mostly chickens.

"This situation was hard to find in the past. It shows the increasing virulence of avian influenza," he said, reports the AP.

Yin and other officials announced a new law that requires agriculture officials to tighten disease surveillance, stockpile supplies and make contingency plans to handle more possible outbreaks in poultry. They didn't give any other details.

"The regulations provide for full legal weapons for swiftly controlling and stamping out bird flu and other important animal diseases according to law," he said, reports the AP. I.L.

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