China announces new bird flu cases in poultry

China reported two new outbreaks of bird flu in poultry on Tuesday as three of Australia's largest cities conducted exercises to test the government's response to an outbreak of the disease. About 300 poultry died Nov. 22 in Shanshan county in China's western Xinjiang region and regional experts confirmed that they were stricken by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu three days later, the Agriculture Ministry said in a report posted on its Web site.

In Yongzhou, a city in central Hunan province, about 400 birds died on Nov. 18 of the disease, the ministry said.

The report did not say what type of poultry was sickened. The outbreaks were China's 23rd and 24th since Oct. 19 despite rigorous efforts to stop epidemics in birds. Some 65,500 birds were culled within a 3 kilometer (2 mile) radius of the two infected areas, the ministry said.

In Australia, police, government officials and representatives of the poultry industry participated in the test, which was conducted jointly in Sydney, Melbourne and the southern city of Adelaide. "What we want to test is people's responsiveness, the ability of agencies to work together across the whole nation" if a major outbreak occurs in birds, Victoria state Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron said.

He said emergency teams would also be forced to deal with the emergence of flu-like symptoms in poultry workers.

"In a situation where we are dealing with influenza there would be a great deal of public panic and we have to test our system in terms of dealing with that," he said.

At least 68 people have died from the H5N1 bird flu virus since it emerged in Asia in 2003. So far, most human cases of the disease have been traced to contact with infected birds. But experts fear a human flu pandemic if the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus mutates into a form that passes easily between people.

China has reported three confirmed human cases of the disease, two of them fatal. A team with the World Health Organization was in the central province of Anhui this week helping Chinese health officials investigate the cases of the two farmers who died of the disease.

Meanwhile, the official Xinhua News Agency said that China has sent 3 million doses of bird flu vaccine to Indonesia, where H5N1 has been found in 23 of 30 provinces. Unlike other countries, Indonesia does not routinely cull birds, citing lack of funds, reports the AP. I.L.

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