China reports its second confirmed human death from bird flu

China reported its second confirmed human death from bird flu as it prepared to test a vaccine on people amid increasingly drastic measures to contain outbreaks of the disease in poultry, state media said Thursday. The latest fatality was a 35-year-old farmer identified only by her surname, Xu, who died Tuesday after developing a fever and pneumonia-like symptoms following contact with sick and dead poultry, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Health Ministry.

The woman, who lived in Xiuning County in the eastern province of Anhui, tested positive for the H5N1 virus, Xinhua said.

The area is about 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Zongyang County, where the country's first human bird flu death was reported, said Roy Wadia, a spokesman for the World Health Organization in Beijing.

The 24-year-old woman, also a farmer, died Nov. 10 with the same symptoms as Xu after coming in contact with sick chickens and ducks at home.

Wadia said the WHO and the Health Ministry were discussing a trip to Anhui next week.

China's only other confirmed human bird flu case was a 9-year-old boy in the central province of Hunan, who fell ill but recovered. Health officials suspect his 12-year-old sister, who later died, also had the disease. However, her body was cremated before tests could confirm whether she had the virus.

H5N1 has resulted in the deaths of at least 67 people and more than 100 million birds in Asia since 2003.

Experts have warned that the virus may mutate into a form that's easily passed between people and trigger a pandemic that could kill millions globally.

Also Thursday, China was "within days" of testing a bird flu vaccine on people, the China Daily reported. There are currently no human vaccines against the disease.

The vaccine trial will involve 100 people between the ages of 18 and 60, the newspaper cited Lu Zhenyou, spokesman for Sinovac Biotech, one of the developers, as saying. China's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were also involved in the 21-month process.

It will take at least a year before the two-phase trials are finished, Lu said. The second round will involve testing on more people, he said without elaborating.

If approved, the vaccine will be given first to high-risk groups such as veterinary and laboratory workers and poultry farmers in infected areas, Lu said.

Dick Thompson, a WHO spokesman in Geneva, said China's second confirmed death, while serious, did not change the global health body's risk assessment for the country.

"As long as the virus is circulating in animals, there will also be sporadic human cases," he said. "But human cases of bird flu are really extremely rare events, " reports the AP. I.L.

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