SHANGHAI, China – Authorities in China said Thursday they have quarantined 116 people in northeastern Liaoning province after two new outbreaks of bird flu there. The province has now suffered three outbreaks in less than three weeks despite a massive campaign to contain the virus.
China did not make clear the extent to which the 116 people in Liaoning were being isolated. The country has imposed quarantines in other bird-flu afflicted areas but in at least one case residents were restricted only from leaving their village.
Authorities also disinfected homes, water wells, and streets within 2 miles of the latest outbreak sites on family chicken farms in Liaoning, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The latest outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in the cities of Jinzhou and Fuxin in Liaoning began Sunday and killed 1,100 chickens on the family farms, the Agriculture Ministry said.
China has not yet confirmed any cases of human deaths from the H5N1 strain, which has killed at least 63 people elsewhere in Asia. But it has asked the World Health Organization to help it determine whether bird flu killed a 12-year-old girl who died in a town where there had been an outbreak.
Experts fear H5N1 could mutate into a form that is easily passed from human to human and spark a pandemic.
The latest outbreaks in China added to concerns that fake bird flu vaccines for poultry were threatening public health after officials reported an unapproved product was sold in Liaoning province, site of the three most recent outbreaks.
"This is something we find to be a very unwelcome development," Peter Cordingley, a World Health Organization spokesman, said in comments broadcast by Hong Kong's Cable TV. "Quite clearly, there's a major problem in Liaoning, and it seems from what the Chinese are saying this has to do with using shoddy, inferior or maybe fake vaccines for poultry."
"And what we have now, almost certainly we think, is sick chickens who are showing no symptoms, and that is very, very bad. They are silent carriers of the virus," Cordingley said.
China identified the source of the latest infections as "wild animals," presumably migratory birds.
Xinhua said authorities had so far culled 170,000 poultry in and around Chaoyangsi village in Fuxin city and 500,000 poultry in Jinzhou's Daling village.
Bird flu outbreaks have been reported in the past month among fowl in northern China's Inner Mongolia, eastern China's Anhui and in the central province of Hunan.
The WHO praised China's openness in dealing with its bird flu problems.
"We have to say from the WHO's point of view, the political response from China was first class. Very senior members of the government were in Liaoning immediately," said Cordingley, who was attending an AIDS conference in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming.
"They've put a lot of money into this. We're very happy with the response," he said.
Health officials say human infections are inevitable if China cannot stop repeated outbreaks in poultry, and the government has ordered increasingly strict preventive measures.
In Kuwait, officials said tests in a local laboratory detected an H5 strain of bird flu but it had not been determined whether it was the deadly H5N1 strain or the less virulent H5N2 strain.
Dr. Mohammed al-Mihana of Kuwait's Public Authority for Agriculture and Fisheries said authorities would not do any further tests to discover which strain had cropped up there.
"We are satisfied with our tests, and we find no need for further investigations," al-Mihana said.
Sheik Fahd Salem Al-Ali Al Sabah, the head of the Public Authority, told reporters the first case was found in an imported peacock at the airport quarantine center. The second case, probably a migrating wild fowl, was found on the beach, he said. Both birds were culled, he added.
The entire Middle East region has been worried about possible outbreaks because the region sits on important migratory routes for birds. Migratory birds have already spread the virus to Russia, Turkey and Romania.