Human bird flu cases confirmed in China

According to official sources in China, at least one person has died from bird flu, confirming widespread suspicion that the deadly virus has now spread in people in another large Asian country where it might prove hard to contain.

China's official news channel says that one victim in eastern Anhui has died and another in the central province of Hunan is suspected of having been killed by the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu.

Apparently a second person diagnosed with bird flu in Hunan has recovered.

This particularly deadly form of bird flu, H5N1, has already killed more than 60 people in Asia and is endemic in poultry in parts of the region.

Previous confirmed deaths have been in Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia.

The virus does however remain hard for people to catch and is still essentially a disease in birds.

Experts however continue to fear H5N1 could mutate into a form that passes easily among people, just like human influenza, putting millions of lives at risk.

Roy Wadia a spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO), says it is not surprising that bird flu had spread to humans in China which is the world's most populous nation.

He says it just demonstrates that China like other countries that have bird flu in poultry can also have human cases.

In the last month China has been trying to contain about a dozen outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus among poultry in at least six provinces.

It seems that the Anhui victim a 24-year-old woman fell ill on November 1 and died on November 10.

She had had contact with dead chickens and geese on her family farm.

The WHO also says a 9-year-old boy from Hunan province has been confirmed of having bird flu, after his 12-year-old sister, who died in October, was also confirmed of having H5N1 antibodies and is thought to have died from the virus.

Both children had close contact with infected poultry, says Wadia.

Initially Chinese officials stated that the two children in Hunan had died from pneumonia and not bird flu, but later international experts helped confirm the cases.

In an attempt to halt the spread of the virus Asian countries are conducting mass culling of birds and vaccination of poultry.

China has this week announced plans to vaccinate billions of birds.

However according to experts it is too late for a large-scale cull of poultry in countries like China and vaccinations are the answer.

Migratory flocks have carried the virus into birds in eastern Europe and Kuwait and experts believe it will soon reach Africa.

European Union veterinary experts have extended a ban on imports of captive live birds for a further two months to guard against the spread of bird flu.

Drug company Roche, the main producer of Tamiflu, the drug currently believed to be the best defence against a possible flu pandemic, has settled a dispute with the drug's inventor over production and royalties.

Many governments have been attempting to stockpile Tamiflu but Roche has come under pressure over concerns that production could fall short.

As it stands now the drug's inventor, U.S. company Gilead Sciences, will get a greater say in plans to increase production of the drug by farming out parts of the process to third-party producers such as generic drug makers.

Gilead's share of the royalties from Tamiflu sales, which are expected to reach more than $1 billion due to government orders, will remain unchanged, but it will no longer have to wear the burden of certain manufacturing costs.

The settlement apparently involves Roche paying the U.S. firm around $62.5 million in reimbursements.

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