Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 4 News List

China cagey on first H5N1 fatality

AFP , ZHOUTAN TOWNSHIP, CHINA

Chinese authorities yesterday had locked down the village in eastern Anhui Province where a 24-year-old pregnant woman died of bird flu last week, becoming the nation's first confirmed human fatality from the virus.

Several local officials in red arm bands were posted as sentries at the narrow dirt road entrance to Lingtan, a small village of a few thousand residents in Zhoutan township where Zhou Maoya died on Nov. 10.

The officials refused to answer questions, other than admitting that Lingtan was where Zhou had died of avian flu and insisting that only local residents were allowed in and out of the village.

"Don't come around asking questions about bird flu. If you want to understand the bird situation here you must go to the local government," an official said.

Police then followed a journalist several kilometers out of the area.

On Wednesday China's health ministry in Beijing announced its first human cases of avian flu, saying the H5N1 virus had killed Zhou, and likely claimed the life of another girl in Hunan Province.

Despite authorities' attempt to impose a media black-out on the village, residents spoke of the fear in the area due to the bird flu, as well as the fate of Zhou, who returned home last month to make wedding plans.

Residents said Zhou had run away with her boyfriend several months ago, but returned to her parents home in Lingtan early last month with her belly beginning to distend.

"Zhou was four months pregnant," said Liao Chenglin, a furniture maker in neighboring Zhoutan town, less than 1km from Lingtan.

Liao said they did not know Zhou or her family personally but knew her parents had indeed raised ducks and chickens.

"They sold some of those ducks and also ate them," said Liao, 51.

Villagers were unsure where Zhou had run off to but the Oriental Morning Post said she had gone to work in a textile factory in the neighboring province of Jiangsu.

Liao's wife, who gave her surname as Zhang, said residents had told her Zhou was not ill when she returned to Lingtan.

"Her parents refused to take her to the hospital because they thought it would not do any good," Zhang said.

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