Thu, Feb 05, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Chinese toddler survives bout with H5N1 bird flu

CONCERN As the Food and Agriculture Organization warned about a possible outbreak, a Hong Kong expert said that the bird flu virus could have mutated

AFP AND AP , BEIJING AND HONG KONG

A three-year-old girl in northern China has become the youngest person in the nation to survive bird flu, authorities said yesterday, after five other people died of the disease this year.

The girl, surnamed Peng, fell ill on Jan. 7 after having been exposed to live poultry in markets and was diagnosed with the H5N1 strain of the virus nine days later, a statement on the health ministry’s Web site said.

Peng, whose mother died early last month of severe pneumonia, was hospitalized in a critical condition in Shanxi Province, but recovered and was discharged on Tuesday, the statement from the Shanxi health department said.

“Peng is the first patient to have recovered and been discharged among China’s eight recent reported cases of bird flu, and she is currently the youngest patient in the country to have been successfully treated,” it said.

Pneumonia is a common symptom of bird flu but authorities previously said there was not enough evidence to say whether the girl’s mother also died of bird flu.

China has reported eight cases of human bird flu infections this year, and five people have died, compared with just three in all of last year.

NO REPORT

However, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said yesterday that China might have experienced outbreaks of bird flu among poultry recently, even though the government had yet to report any cases this year.

“There must have been some virus circulation or possibly some outbreaks lately,” said Vincent Martin, senior technical adviser on bird flu for the FAO in China.

But he said the FAO had received no reports of bird flu cases in poultry from the agriculture ministry since December, when an outbreak occurred in Jiangsu Province.

“There must be some suspicions of the disease reported to the Ministry of Agriculture, and some of those suspicions might have come up positive,” he said. “We are waiting to receive some reports describing the overall epidemiological situation and the results of investigations.”

Martin said the pattern this year was unusual.

“There are more cases than last year, including in places where the disease was not reported before like in Jiangsu Province [poultry outbreak] or Shandong Province [human case],” he said.

MUTATION

Lo Wing-lok (勞永樂), an infectious disease expert in Hong Kong, said that if no outbreak in China accompanied the human cases, the latter could have been triggered by a mutation in the H5N1 virus.

“Maybe the virus has been changing, so that it becomes a more easily transmittable virus between bird and man,” he said.

Meanwhile, the bodies of nine more birds that washed up on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island on Tuesday are being tested for avian flu. Of the 21 birds found in the past week, three tested positive for the H5 avian flu, though it was not yet clear which strain they had, a Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department spokeswoman said. Tests have also shown two birds were free of the virus.

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