World Health Organization spokesman Roy Wadia said, ”It’s not a surprise. It shows that China like other countries that have bird flu in poultry can have human cases.”
Previous human cases of the H5N1 bird flu virus have been confirmed in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia and have killed more than 60 people. Despite the toll, health officials maintain that the virus remains an animal disease and that it has not mutated to be easily transmittable from human to human. Most human cases, including the deaths in China, have had close contact with infected birds.
On Tuesday, China’s Agriculture Ministry said it would inject all 5.2 billion chickens, geese and ducks with a bird flu vaccine. In a country with vast poultry flocks and other domesticated animals living in close contact with humans, experts are worried the virus could jump easily from bird to humans and spark a pandemic in the world’s most populous country.
China also is a major migration route for wild fowl that experts believe capable of spreading the disease from Asia to parts of Europe and Africa.
The Chinese government has pledged to respond quickly to public health threats after being criticized in 2003 for failing to respond to foreign pleas for information and cooperation at the start of its outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS.
Other Asian countries are scrambling to halt the spread of bird flu with mass cullings of birds and vaccinations of poultry. At a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Busan, South Korea, government ministers urged more regional and international cooperation and response to combat bird flu.
Speaking at the APEC meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pushed for improved communication among countries and encouragement for the private sector to help prepare for outbreaks before they happen.
“New global pandemics, like avian influenza, require new, concerted action,” said Rice.
The threat of a bird flu pandemic originating in Southeast Asia has prompted many countries, including the United States, to draft bird flu response plans and examine live poultry imports.
The European Union, concerned after avian outbreaks in neighboring Croatia, Romania and Turkey and the death of a parrot in Britain, extended a ban on live captive birds until Jan. 31. The ban was imposed in October after the parrot died in quarantine from H5N1. The EU said the ban, which covers parrots and other pet birds, would stay in place “subject to further review.”