China Says Man Dies From Bird Flu

 Published: 12/31/2011 5:01:00 AM GMT
Original Cached

HONG KONG — A man in southern China died of bird flu on Saturday, state media reported, in the country’s first reported human death attributed to the virus in 18 months.

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The death came a week after two dead birds tested positive for the H5N1 avian influenza virus in nearby Hong Kong, causing the government to cull thousands of birds.

Saturday’s victim, a 39-year-old bus driver, died from multiple organ failure at a hospital in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, according to the Xinhua news agency, citing the local Department of Health. The department said that the man began developing symptoms on Dec. 21 and was hospitalized last Sunday with pneumonia; he subsequently tested positive for the virus.

The Reuters news service, citing The Southern Daily newspaper, reported that 120 people who had contact with the man had developed no signs of sickness. In the month before developing symptoms, the man had no direct contact with poultry and had not traveled outside of Shenzhen, a city of more than 10 million just north of Hong Kong.

The H5N1 virus passes easily among birds and becomes more active during cooler periods of the year. It rarely infects humans, but when it does, the virus has a 60 percent mortality rate, scientists say. Hong Kong experienced the world’s first major outbreak of avian flu among humans in 1997, when six people died.

The World Health Organization says 573 people have been infected worldwide with H5N1 since 2003, causing 336 deaths.

On Dec. 21, Hong Kong health workers slaughtered more than 17,000 chickens after a carcass infected with bird flu was found at a poultry market. The government here also imposed a 21-day ban on the sale and import of live poultry. Late last week a second dead bird was found in Hong Kong infected with H5N1.

China’s last reported human death from H5N1 was in June 2010, when a pregnant 22-year-old woman in central Hubei Province died from exposure to infected poultry.

Saturday’s death came a day after the W.H.O. expressed concern about how research was being carried out on the H5N1 virus. Last week, the National Institutes of Health asked scientists at the universities in Wisconsin and the Netherlands to refrain from publishing complete details on how to make the H5N1 virus more easily transmissible between humans.

In August, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned of a possible major resurgence of the H5N1 virus in the coming months, saying migratory birds appeared to be carrying it and infecting poultry in more countries.

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