China Reports First Human Death from Bird Flu

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Health workers spray disinfectant i

Health workers spray disinfectant in Jinzhou city, in China's northeast Liaoning province, Nov. 16. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters
Health workers spray disinfectant

Health workers spray disinfectant in Jinzhou city, in China's northeast Liaoning province, Nov. 16.

Reuters

China confirms its first two cases of bird flu in people, one of whom has died. Bird flu is suspected in a second death. The world's largest poultry producer, China is fighting nearly a dozen outbreaks in several provinces and faces a tough battle in controlling the disease.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

China has confirmed its first two cases of bird flu in humans. China has been battling nearly a dozen outbreaks of bird flu in several provinces, but until now only birds were known to have been infected. China is the world's largest poultry producer, and as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, the country knows it will be tough to control the disease.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

According to China's ministry of health, the first bird flu fatality in China was a 24-year-old farmer in eastern Anhui province. She died on November 10th. And in central Hunan province, a nine-year-old boy got sick in a village that had experienced a bird flu outbreak among poultry. His sister, who died, is listed as a suspected case. Experts are also monitoring a poultry worker in northeast Liaoning province, which has seen four separate outbreaks in bird flocks. Farmers in Liaoning are understandably jittery.

(Soundbite of geese honking)

KUHN: A visitor to Lio Diao's(ph) farm sets off the dog and geese that alert him to intruders. Near the geese are several pigs; they live opposite the chicken coop. Lio's farm is in the township of Jonang in western Liaoning, the fertile heartland of what was once known as Manchuria. Several counties near Lio's town have seen outbreaks followed by quarantines and mass culling of poultry. Lio sits on the kang, or heated sleeping platform, common in north China. He says an outbreak near him would deal a heavy blow to his livelihood.

Mr. LIO DIAO (Farmer): (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: `If there was an outbreak in this area,' he says, `my losses would be greatest because I just got into this business and only began to recoup my investment four months ago.'

Mr. LIO: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Lio says that even with government compensation, a cull would mean he'd lose a dollar on each of his 2,000 chickens. That's a lot in this part of Liaoning, where many farmers survive on less than $75 a year. Meanwhile, eggs have been piling up on Lio's farm since the government banned their sale.

Visiting Lio is Won Quin Yen(ph), who also raises chickens down the road in a neighboring village. She says that locals have taken matters into their own hands and sealed off the village to outsiders to prevent the virus from getting in.

Ms. WON QUIN YEN: (Through Translator) Our village chief broadcast an announcement. He said that if there was mismanagement or if there were any more outbreaks in their areas, officials would lose their jobs.

KUHN: At midafternoon, Lio goes out to check on his chickens.

(Soundbite of chickens)

KUHN: The ground in his yard is covered with white lime used as disinfectant. Lio says he's vaccinated his birds three times this month. It's part of the Chinese government's ambitious drive to vaccinate all of the country's fowl, more than 14 billion birds in all. The government has also shut down live poultry markets in favor of chicken processing plants.

Noureddin Mona is the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's representative in China. He speaks highly of the government's commitment.

Mr. NOUREDDIN MONA (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization): Really, they are on the right track in terms of following the international standards. But the problem is here in China, which must be recognized--that applying the biosecurity measures is really difficult. Why? First of all, 60 percent of the poultry here in China is really operated by small-scale farmers in the rural areas.

KUHN: Another cause for concern is that Chinese state media have reported sales of fake bird flu vaccine. Experts are concerned that the fakes could cause the virus to mutate into a more virulent strain that might infect more people. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

NORRIS: You can get NPR's complete bird flu coverage, including answers to questions about the potential for a pandemic, at our Web site, npr.org.

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