China says bird flu `serious epidemic'

China is stepping up measures to fight a "serious epidemic" of bird flu but has no plan to shut its borders to contain the disease, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday. "The government is making all efforts to combat bird flu, which is a serious epidemic in China," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.

China on Monday reported two new poultry outbreaks, the county's 16th and 17th in recent weeks, amid a nationwide effort to vaccinate billions of poultry against the virulent H5N1 strain of the virus. China has reported one human fatality, plus the death of a girl who was a suspected case.

"We are still facing serious challenges in terms of prevention of bird flu," Liu said. "We will step up our efforts in order to resolve this bird flu issue as soon as possible."

Experts fear the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that can easily be passed from human to human, sparking a pandemic.

"I have yet to hear anything about a border closing plan," Liu said, when asked about reports that China would shut its borders if there was a human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Throughout Asia, the H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 67 people since 2003. Almost all of them came into close contact with infected birds.

The latest two Chinese outbreaks occurred on Nov. 15 in Hanguerhe, a town in the northern region of Inner Mongolia and on Nov. 16 in Shishou, a city in the central province of Hubei. A total of 3,676 chickens, ducks and geese reportedly died. Authorities destroyed a total of 7,002 birds to contain the outbreaks, the government said Monday, reports the AP. I.L.

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