Page last updated at 04:14 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009

New death from bird flu in China

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A Chinese woman has died from bird flu in the eastern Shandong province, state media has said.

It says Ms Zhang, aged 27, died at the weekend after becoming infected with the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

It is the second reported death from bird flu in China this year. Two weeks ago, a 19-year-old woman died in Beijing after handling ducks.

The latest death was announced the day after the infection of a two-year old with bird flu in Hunan was reported.

The three new cases are the first to be reported in China in almost a year.

The toddler is now in hospital in her home province of Shanxi and all those who had been in contact with her are being watched.

The toll from bird flu in China is now reported by state media as 22 since 2003.

China's ministry of agriculture said on Sunday that no bird flu epidemics were detected in Shanxi and Henan provinces after the two-year-old's infection was confirmed.

Grim threat

The ministry said China now faces "a grim situation" in bird flu prevention, threatened by frequent outbreaks in neighbouring countries, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.

Other threats came from brisk poultry trade ahead of the Spring Festival and difficulties in taking prevention measures at loosely managed household farms, it said.

Bird flu often resurges in the winter months in China, but not every case is fatal.

China has the world's biggest poultry population and is seen as critical in the fight to contain H5N1, which resurfaced in Asia in 2003, killing at least 247 people.

H5N1 does not transmit easily to humans but experts fear it could mutate and cause a worldwide pandemic.

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