China in national bird flu alert

China has ordered nationwide emergency measures to try to stop the spread of bird flu after discovering that wild geese had been killed by the virus.

Agriculture officials say the migratory birds may have brought a more virulent flu strain into China from South East Asia, Xinhua official news agency said.

Tests confirmed that the geese found dead in Qinghai province had been infected with the H5N1 virus.

The virus has killed at least 53 people in South East Asia since late 2003.

China has had confirmed outbreaks of H5N1 in birds before, but no-one has yet died from avian flu on the mainland.

In Hong Kong, six people died after being infected when the strain spread from wildfowl to chickens to humans in 1997.

Health experts continue to warn that any mutation of bird flu could lead to a world pandemic.


An expert from the national bird flu reference laboratory, Cui Shangjin, told Xinhua that "people need not be too worried" as the controls introduced should be effective.

The measures include:

Banning people from habitats of migratory birds

Immunising poultry raised near habitats and routes of migratory birds

Asking public to stop contact with poultry

Introducing quarantine measures in Qinghai

The agriculture ministry said the dead birds were found in early May on Bird Island, a research centre and wildfowl reserve popular with tourists on the shores of Lake Qinghai.

Some are believed to have migrated from South East Asia, but officials did not give any details.

China's most recent confirmed case of bird flu occurred last July in the east of the country.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been confirmed in eight south-east Asian countries since 2003, including Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia where people have died.

The World Health Organization has warned of the great potential threat should the virus develop the capacity to spread easily between humans.