More bird flu deaths in China and Indonesia
Questions are raised after latest death is confirmed in area without any reported outbreak. Bird flu should reach the Americas within six-twelve months, says UN official.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – A three-year-old Indonesian boy and a nine-year-old Chinese girl are the latest victims of the bird flu. In mainland China, Guangdong authorities want restrictions on poultry exports to Hong Kong lifted.

Indonesia. The boy died on February 28 at the Samarang hospital in Central Java but World Health Organisation (WHO) official Hariadi Wibisono confirmed the news only today. His death brings the total toll to 21, but according to Wibisono several cases have not been checked.

China. The girl from Zhejiang province died in the evening of March 6. She fell ill after visiting relatives on a farm in Guangde County, Anhui province, where poultry was infected.

There have been no official report about outbreaks in this province but it seems unlikely the girl could have been infected in Zhejiang, near Shanghai. So far in China there have been 15 known cases of human bird flu infections in nine provinces.

"It's likely that the poultry may be infected but there may not be large or obvious deaths of poultry to alert officials to an outbreak in the area," said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, a WHO spokeswoman in Beijing.

"The epidemic situation is very severe. Right now is spring, when there is a high chance of bird flu outbreaks due to the frequent movement of migratory birds," China's Deputy Agriculture Minister Yin Chengjie said.

"Given the flight patterns of wild birds that have been spreading avian influenza from Asia to Europe and Africa, birds infected with the H5N1 virus could reach the Americas within the next six to 12 months," David Nabarro, senior UN coordinator for avian and human influenza, said on March 8.

Meanwhile, Guangdong's Agriculture Department announced that its poultry is safe from bird flu and has appealed to Hong Kong to lift its ban on chicken imports.

Yu Yedong, head of the provincial department's Animal Health Inspection and Quarantine Administration, said inspections were being increased to ensure that chicken stocks replenished after the Lunar New Year were vaccinated. Only some local 300 farms are accredited for exporting chickens to Hong Kong.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation's regional co-ordinator for bird flu in Beijing, Guo Fusheng, said he believed that Guangdong's vaccination programme was effective because there had been no H5N1 outbreaks among birds. But there was still a risk that backyard chickens might not have been vaccinated and might end up in wet markets.

"Guangdong has many backyard farms, especially in the northern and western parts of the province, and Cantonese people love to eat chicken from small farms," he said.

Russia. An outbreak in poultry farm was confirmed in the southern region of Stavropol. Since the beginning of March more than 70,000 chickens have been culled. (PB)

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