China, U.S. launch bird flu education campaign

The Chinese and American Red Cross societies launched a campaign Thursday to blanket China with millions of posters to teach the public to avoid bird flu as health experts warned of new virus risks when migrating birds return from their winter homes.

Brightly colored, simply written posters and pamphlets with cartoons showing people washing their hands and reporting sick birds are to be given out in markets, bus stations and other public places. One warning on them says: "Don't let children play with chickens."

The campaign was announced at the start of a two-day bird flu conference in Beijing attended by officials of China's Health Ministry, the World Health Organization, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF and the U.S. Embassy. Officials from Vietnam's Red Cross, South Korea and the Netherlands also attended.

"As the weather gets warmer, migratory birds bring a serious threat," said Jia Youling, the chief veterinary official of the Chinese Agriculture Ministry.

China has 3.7 billion ducks and other water fowl, most of them wild migratory birds that aren't inoculated against flu, Jia said.

In addition, he said, "in spring, there will be many birds sold for breeding, and that increases the risk of bird flu."

The US$150,000 (euro120,000) publicity campaign is financed by the American Red Cross and the U.S. Agency for International Development. The materials are to be distributed by Chinese Red Cross volunteers.

"We have to change people's habits," said Zhang Bo, the Chinese Red Cross's executive vice president for Sichuan, a poor, densely crowded farming province in the southwest, reports the AP.

I.L.