CHINA JOINS LIST AS BIRD FLU SPREADS

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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 28) - The Chinese government has confirmed an outbreak of the lethal strain of H5N1 bird flu among ducks in the southwestern Chinese province of Guangxi.

The World Health Organization earlier said extreme measures would likely be needed to defeat any local outbreak.

Guangxi shares a border with Vietnam, where at least six people have died from the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

A second child has also died in Thailand from bird flu, which has led to the death of nearly 20 million chickens across Asia.

Outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of bird flu have also been confirmed in Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Cambodia, with weaker strains detected in Pakistan, Taiwan and Laos.

Thailand is preparing for international crisis talks on the bird flu outbreak, which has now spread to ten Asian nations and claimed the lives of at least eight people.

Thailand's Foreign Minister, Surakiart Sathirathai, says the half-day talks on the crisis, to be held in Bangkok on Wednesday, will focus on technical measures to curb the disease.

As well as officials from the affected countries, representatives from the United States, European Union, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization are expected to attend.

The WHO says a coordinated plan is required to tackle the virus, which could be more deadly than SARS.

WHO spokesman, Peter Cordingly, says Wednesday's meeting will be vital in drawing on international support.

"One of the heartening things about SARS, you know for all the damage it caused to economies and human health, in the end everybody pulled together," he said. "We want to see the SARS spirit returned to fight this disease as well."

The World Health Organization has urged the Indonesian government to start killing poultry infected by bird flu, saying vaccination and other measures to fight the disease would not work.

Indonesia has so far refused to follow other nations in ordering a mass cull, even though the outbreak has infected millions of birds across region.

The government is awaiting results of overseas tests to establish the type of virus that has taken hold there.

Indonesian agriculture spokesman Hari Priyono says the authorities will comply with the WHO recommendation to cull chickens if tests prove positive for the more serious H5N1 strain.

The government has rejected claims the outbreak of the disease was covered up to protect commercial interests in Indonesia.

January 28, 2004

Radio Australia: www.abc.net.au/ra

 

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