Published November 23, 2005
BEIJING – China on Wednesday reported its second confirmed death from a strain of bird flu that has claimed more than 60 lives in Asia.
State media, meanwhile, reported that a bird flu vaccine being developed in China would be tested on 100 people. It's already been tried on minks, chickens and rats.
The 35-year-old farmer identified only by her surname, Xu, died Tuesday after developing a fever and pneumonia-like symptoms following contact with sick and dead poultry, the Health Ministry said.
The woman lived in Xiuning County in Anhui, the eastern province where China's first confirmed bird flu death occurred.
Dick Thompson, a spokesman for the U.N. World Health Organization in Geneva, said the death did not change the global health body's risk assessment in China.
"As long as the virus is circulating in animals, there will also be sporadic human cases," he said. "But human cases of bird flu are really extremely rare events."
According to WHO, at least 67 people have died of the H5N1 strain since late 2003 in Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and China.
Another WHO official said Wednesday that blood tests on a 36-year old schoolteacher, whom the Chinese government says fell ill after handling raw chicken, show he doesn't have the H5N1 strain.
"Based on an extensive range of blood tests, he's been excluded as a case of H5N1," Dr. Julie Hall, an infectious diseases specialist for the WHO's Beijing office, told The Associated Press.
The teacher lived in the same county in the central province of Hunan as the country's only other confirmed human bird flu case, a 9-year-old boy who fell ill but recovered. His 12-year-old sister was recorded as a suspected case, and later died. However, her body was cremated before tests could confirm whether she had the virus.
Xinhua reported Wednesday that China will test 100 people with a vaccine against the H5N1 strain jointly developed in 21 months by Sinovac Biotech and China's Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There is currently no human vaccine against the disease.
The report did not say when the tests would begin or give any other details, but said the vaccine had already been tested on minks, chickens and rats.
It is "safe and effective," Yin Weidong, general manager of Sinovac Biotech, was cited as saying.
Xinhua said the vaccine used a modified version of the bird flu virus from the WHO.
Hall confirmed that China was one of the countries that received the virus from the WHO but would not comment further because the vaccine tests had not begun.
New epidemics of the disease have been reported almost daily in China despite a nationwide effort to vaccinate billions of poultry.
Hall said increased public awareness was key to fighting poultry and human outbreaks, likely in the coming winter.
There are "high levels of fear about the disease and a misunderstanding of what it is," Hall said. "If public awareness were raised, then it may be we would be able to detect cases a little quicker and a little easier."