March 16, 2008 / 2:43 PM / 10 years ago

China reports new bird flu outbreak

BEIJING, March 16 (Reuters) - China has reported a bird flu outbreak at a poultry market in the southern city of Guangzhou, state media said on Sunday, prompting neighbouring Hong Kong to suspend live poultry imports from the region.

The outbreak, which was first noticed on March 13 at a poultry market in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, killed 108 birds and triggered the culling of another 518, Xinhua news agency said, citing the Ministry of Agriculture.

"The outbreak has been effectively controlled," Xinhua said.

It occurred as authorities in Hong Kong, which borders Guangdong to the south, closed kindergartens and primary schools for two weeks to contain a seasonal flu outbreak.

A top Chinese doctor last week said the H5N1 bird flu virus was mutating, and urged vigilance at a time when seasonal human influenza is at a peak.

Experts fear seasonal flu could get mixed up with a deadly novel strain, such as H5N1, and trigger a pandemic killing millions.

Health authorities in Hong Kong said on Sunday they would ban live poultry imports from the infected area.

"Upon confirmation of the case, the government will ... (suspend) the import of live birds, live poultry and poultry products from the zone of 13 kilometres (8 miles) radius from the infected area for 21 days," a spokesman from Hong Kong’s Food and Health Bureau said.

Although there have been only 372 known human infections worldwide since 2003, the virus’s mortality rate is worryingly high. At least 235 people have died from the virus, according to World Health Organisation data.

Of 30 human bird flu cases in China, 20 have died, including three this year.

With the world’s biggest poultry population and millions of backyard birds, China is considered crucial in the fight against the disease. (Reporting by Ian Ransom in Beijing and Alison Leung in Hong Kong; Editing by Charles Dick)



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