Bird flu returns to China and claims another life

After a break of almost a year bird flu has appeared again in China.

This latest outbreak has claimed the life of a young woman in eastern China and a young girl in the north of the country remains critically ill.

Chinese Health officials say the 27-year-old woman, Zhang, from Jinan, the capital of Shandong province, became ill on January 5th and died on January 17th and a two-year-old girl, Peng, became ill on January 7th in central Hunan province and was later diagnosed with bird flu at a hospital in her home province of Shanxi on Saturday.

China has now had three confirmed cases of the deadly H5N1 virus in less than two weeks as early in January a woman became infected with bird flu and died in Beijing.

The woman had bought ducks at a market in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing and the case prompted emergency checks of the local poultry markets but no bird flu cases were found amongst the poultry - all who came into close contact with her are apparently under strict medical observation.

Experts say the H5N1 virus remains largely a disease among birds and as the virus is more active during the cooler months between October and March, new cases can be expected.

The fear persists however that the virus will eventually mutate into a form that is easily transmitted among humans, and trigger an influenza pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people worldwide.

China has the world's biggest poultry population and much of it lives in people's backyards, so China's fight to contain any bird flu outbreak is critical to the rest of the world.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) since the H5N1 virus reappeared in Asia in 2003, it has infected 391 people, killing 247 of them.

These latest cases bring China's human bird flu cases to a total of 33, of which at least 22 have died.

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