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China claims bird flu victory

17-Mar-2004

China claims to have had an early success in stamping out the bird flu that has been causing severe hardships to the country's numerous poultry farmers, after the mass culling of some nine million birds over the seven weeks since the first outbreak.

An Agricultural Ministry spokesman claimed yesterday that the country had managed to stamp out the spread of the disease in the 49 key areas where it had been pinpointed. However it did also warned that the onset of warm weather could see the spread of the disease reignited, as wild fowl continued their seasonal migratory patterns, leading to a further spread of the disease.

Contrary to the Chinese government's optimism, the World Health Organisation has said that that it has not received firm evidence that the disease has been brought under control in any of the affected Asian countries.

So far China has escaped relatively mildly, compared to other Asian countries. The multi billion dollar poultry industry in Thailand, which has grown exponentially on the back of exportations to the international market, has been decimated as all exports have had to be ceased. There has also been a human cost, with the country announcing the eighth person to die from the disease this week. In China there have been no human deaths reported from the disease, and the government said that the last identified case in its poultry stocks was 30 days ago.

On an Asian-wide basis the disease has had far-reaching implications, with other countries, such as Vietnam also being hard hit. In total an estimated 100 million birds have had to be culled throughout the region.

However, others are starting to benefit from the current position, with countries such as the Philippines, which to date has managed to stay free of the disease, reporting increased trade, both to countries affected by the disease and to those export markets which have also been hit.

The World Health Organisation is currently holding a technical consultation in Geneva on how to control a potential pandemic influenza outbreak - in which the avian flu outbreak will be made a key focus.

Speaking to the press at the start of the three day consultation, Klaus Stohr, head of WHO's influenza programme, said that continued surveillance and checks on the Asian poultry industry would have to be carried out to help keep the spread of the disease in check. He also added that previous 'victories' had often been called too early, and that further outbreaks have often followed.

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