01/28/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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Bird flu: WHO rules out epidemic in China

The 5th death in less than a month has raised alarms. But the World Health Organization says this is within the forecasts, and there are no signs of an epidemic.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The World Health Organization (WHO) insists that "there is no evidence" of a bird flu epidemic in China, after the fifth death from the disease in January two days ago.

On January 26, at the hospital in Yulin (Guangxi, on the border with Vietnam), an 18-year-old woman died, bringing to 5 the number of deaths in 2009 - after there were only 3 in all of 2008. Meanwhile, in Guizhou a 29-year-old man has been hospitalized in serious condition, after coming into contact with live chickens at a market.

But Peter Cordingley, WHO spokesman for the Pacific region, repeats that "what we are seeing is so far within our expectations and broadly matches previous years. There is no evidence of an epidemic. Also, the China cases are geographically scattered and sporadic, with no sign of any connection between them." He did, however, urge caution during the celebrations for the lunar new year, when tens of millions of people travel and there is extensive poultry consumption.

Meanwhile, since January 16 Malaysia has prohibited the importing of Chinese poultry, for the official reason that importing companies have enough supplies for 3 months.

Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed 25 people in China; most of the deaths take place during the first 2 months of the year, when the winter cold is most severe.

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