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China reports fourth bird flu outbreak, says 8,940 birds dead

BEIJING – China reported its fourth bird flu outbreak in three weeks, saying Friday that 8,940 chickens died in a northeastern village despite a nationwide effort to contain the virus. The discovery prompted authorities to destroy about 370,000 birds.Authorities in Japan have detected signs of bird flu at a northern farm and plan to kill 180,000 chickens after they detected antibodies in some for the H5 family of bird flu virus. The deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, which is the only one that has spread to humans, has not yet been detected in Japan but the less virulent H5N2 strain hit the country last year.Japan’s Agriculture Ministry said it ordered 30 farms in eight prefectures across the country to undergo testing because previous tests at these farms had been carried out by private veterinarians. This called the results into question, said ministry spokesman Hirofumi Kugita.Vietnam also confirmed bird flu outbreaks in three northern villages, despite stepped up efforts to fight the disease. More than 3,000 poultry died or were killed this week in the Bac Giang province, said Nguyen Dang Khoa, vice chairman of the People’s Committee of the province.Transporting poultry to or from the villages was banned, and the towns and those around them have been disinfected and remaining poultry vaccinated, he said. In one of the villages, Van Trung, about a dozen local officials on Friday went from house to house, beating to death any poultry they found.In Thailand, where 13 people have died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the head of the state drug production company said Friday the country could begin as early as February distributing its own generic version of Oseltamivir, considered to be one of the most effective anti-viral drug to treat bird flu.The Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche developed Oseltamivir, better known by the trademarked name Tamiflu, but cannot keep up with demand from countries trying to stockpile the drug, which is in short supply worldwide.Roche confirmed Tamiflu is not patented in Thailand and the country could manufacture it without compensating the company. It also offered Thailand its expertise in making the drug, saying it was “interested in ensuring the best possible global preparedness for a potential pandemic threat.”Hong Kong’s government said Friday it was banning the import of live chickens and poultry meat from the bird flu-affected northern Chinese province of Liaoning. Hong Kong does not import live poultry from Liaoning, but had imported 14,300 tons of poultry meat from the province this year, the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau said.The latest outbreak in China was on Oct. 26 in Badaohao, in Liaoning province, east of Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing the Agriculture Ministry. The outbreak came despite efforts to tighten controls on China’s 5.2 billion chickens, ducks and other poultry. Beijing created a Cabinet-level anti-flu task force this week and a $250 million fund to pay for anti-disease work.China has not reported any human infections, but experts say one is inevitable if it cannot stop repeated outbreaks in poultry. Health experts worry that the virus might be spread by migrating wild birds.The H5N1 strain of bird flu has ravaged Southeast Asia since 2003 and killed at least 62 people there. Most of the cases came from contact with infected poultry. But health authorities are concerned the deadly strain could mutate into a form easily spread from person to person and cause a global pandemic.In Liaoning, local TV showed health workers in masks, gloves and protective suits dumping white plastic sacks filled with dead chickens into a landfill, while others vaccinated living birds.”Basically the outbreak is under control now. But the culling is not complete,” said Chen Jinsheng, an official of the Liaoning Animal Hygiene Monitoring Department. “We may still have to observe the situation for 21 days until we can say it is completely under control.”China says it had a bird flu outbreak Oct. 14 on a farm in the northern region of Inner Mongolia, followed by cases in Anhui province in the east and in Hunan in central China. The country has pledged to be more transparent in reporting on bird flu than it was in the outbreak of SARS.Thailand’s Government Pharmaceutical Organization said it plans to begin distributing 1 million tablets of Oseltamivir for 100,000 people by October 2006. The drug would be given to health workers and other highly susceptible people.But the agency said it could rush Oseltamivir into distribution by February next year if the country was hit by a pandemic.The general manager of Roche Thailand, Rob Mitchell, confirmed Tamiflu is not patented in Thailand. He told the AP the company advised the Thai government it was “therefore free to manufacture Tamiflu at its discretion and without paying compensation to Roche.””Roche remains willing to openly discuss the technical aspects of the manufacturing of Tamiflu with the government of Thailand in view of our expertise and experience in the manufacturing of this important therapy and as a responsible company interested in ensuring the best possible global preparedness for a potential pandemic threat.”—AP reporters Sylvia Hui in Hong Kong, Tran Van Minh in Van Trung, Vietnam, and Rungrawee C. Pinyorat in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.


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