Beijing Teen Dies of Bird Flu, Third Fatality This Month

A 16-year-old boy infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus has died in central China, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday, the country's third fatality from the disease this month.

China, meanwhile, stepped up bird flu precautions on fears that the virus can spread more quickly in cold weather and as an estimated 188 million people travel between cities and rural hometowns for the Lunar New Year holiday, which typically includes feasts with poultry.

The latest victim was student whose surname was Wu, who had been in critical condition before dying Tuesday morning in Huaihua, a city in Hunan province, Xinhua said.

He fell ill Jan. 8 in his hometown in the neighboring province of Guizhou and was transferred to a hospital in Huaihua on Jan. 16, Xinhua said. He had had contact with dead poultry, the report said without giving other details.

The two other bird flu deaths were a 27-year-old woman in Shandong province in the country's east who died on Saturday and a 19-year-old woman who died in Beijing on Jan. 5.

Also Tuesday, a 2-year-old girl who was critically ill with the H5N1 virus in Hunan was in stable condition and had returned to her home in the north, China Central Television said. The report said the girl had been to live poultry markets "many times" but did not elaborate.

State and Hong Kong media have reported that the girl's mother died this month after exihibiting symptoms similar to bird flu but there has been no official confirmation of the cause of her death. Health officials have declined to comment on the reports.

Human-to-human transmission of bird flu has happened about a dozen times, in countries including China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Turkey. In nearly every case, transmission has occurred among relatives who have been in close contact, and the virus has not spread into the wider community.

Until this month, no new human cases had been reported since February 2007.

Shu Yuelong, a flu expert at China's National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said a spike in infections were likely because the H5N1 virus is more active in cooler temperatures. The Agriculture Ministry has ordered tighter monitoring of disease outbreaks at all levels and proper vaccination of all poultry.

Lunar New Year feasts often include dishes made from freshly slaughtered chicken and duck feature, meaning a potentially greater risk of exposure to sick birds as people shop in markets for poultry or when the birds are transported to be sold.

According to World Health Organization, bird flu has killed 249 people worldwide since 2003. The tally does not include Tuesday's death in China, where 34 infections have been reported.