China Bird Flu
Str  /  AP
A chicken vendor waits for customers in a market in Fuyang in central China's Anhui province. China's Health Ministry said Saturday a fourth person has died from bird flu this year. A 31-year-old woman died Friday in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region in the country's far west.
updated 1/25/2009 1:20:46 PM ET 2009-01-25T18:20:46

A woman in China's far west has died from the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the Health Ministry said Saturday, the country's fourth death from the virus this year as the biggest festive season approaches.

The victim, a 31-year-old woman from Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, had been to a live poultry market before she fell ill on Jan. 10, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing Wang Xiaoyan, a deputy director of the regional health department. She died Friday.

A woman in eastern China, a teenage boy in southwest China and a woman in Beijing have also died from the disease this month.

A 2-year-old girl was also sickened with H5N1 but recovered. The Health Ministry said her mother, who like the toddler went to a live poultry market, had died of pneumonia in early January. Doctors said they could not confirm the cause of death.

China launched a daily bird flu reporting system for poultry and human cases Thursday, underscoring its concerns about potential epidemics.

Provincial health and agriculture departments must report to the Health Ministry, Agriculture Ministry and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce every day on whether there have been infections in their areas.

The Agriculture Ministry has also ordered increased monitoring and management of live poultry markets, especially before next week's Lunar New Year holiday, when people will have more contact with chickens and ducks while preparing celebratory meals.

Despite the new cases, the Health Ministry has said there was no evidence of a large-scale outbreak of bird flu. It said the illnesses were isolated, unrelated and did not show significant mutations of the H5N1 virus.

They also occurred during the cold months, which experts have determined are high season for infections, it said.

According to the World Health Organization, bird flu has killed 251 people worldwide since 2003, including 22 in China. That number does not include the latest death.

While the disease remains hard for humans to catch, scientists have warned if outbreaks among poultry are not controlled, the virus may mutate into a form more easily passed between people, possibly triggering a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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