The World Health Organization (WHO) called yesterday for more investment in developing a vaccine to protect people from bird flu as China reported its fourth human case of the disease.
A 10-year-old girl in the southern region of Guangxi has tested positive for the H5N1 virus, the Chinese government said. She has been sick with a fever and pneumonia since Nov. 23 and has undergone emergency treatment, it said.
Experts have warned that the virus could mutate and become more easily passed between people, sparking a global pandemic that could kill millions.
Scientists in several countries are trying to develop a human vaccine for the disease, which will be even more important than antiviral drugs in containing it, said Henk Bekedam, the WHO representative in China.
"We strongly believe there needs to be more investment" in a vaccine, he told reporters.
Governments need to get involved with efforts by pharmaceutical companies, perhaps promising to buy vaccines once they are developed, he said.
Three of China's four human cases -- including the latest one -- have been found in areas where outbreaks of bird flu were not reported.
This shows "there's still an issue of public awareness of what to look for when chickens get sick," Julie Hall, an infectious disease expert at the WHO office in Beijing, said this week.
China's public still needs to be educated about how to spot early signs of bird flu in poultry to prevent a further spread of the disease among birds and people, WHO officials said.
There was still no sign that bird flu can be passed between people, Bekedam said. Worldwide, there have been just over 130 human infections compared to more than 3,500 outbreaks in poultry -- a small ratio, he said.
"We do not think this virus is very clever in infecting humans," he added.