China on Friday ruled out bird flu in the death of a 12-year-old girl whose village suffered an outbreak, while Indonesia was testing dead chickens on Bali for the virus.
Highlighting the region’s growing anxiety, Australia’s health minister said the country would have to isolate itself in the event of a bird flu epidemic among humans. A Hong Kong lawmaker proposed arming the public to shoot all migratory birds.
The Thai government said three French tourists who became ill after visiting Thailand were found not to have bird flu.
The cases caused alarm when initial tests conducted on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion suggested the three might be carrying the virus. But more sophisticated tests in Paris found no virus, the Thai Health Ministry announced.
The World Health Organization said it wanted to see test results on the Chinese girl before it could confirm that the world’s most populous nation hadn’t suffered its first bird flu fatality.
Chinese authorities went on national television to assure the nation they could control the disease. They said they would quarantine any human cases and threatened to punish anyone who tries to hide an outbreak.
Scientists say China is a potentially a huge incubator for the disease because of its large poultry industry and vast territory. The country has reported three outbreaks since Oct. 19, the latest in the village where the girl died.
“Prevention and control of bird outbreaks is of chief importance,” said Jia Youling, China’s chief veterinary officer. “If we fail to do that well, then sooner or later there will be transmission from birds to human.”
Bird flu has killed at least 62 people since it surfaced in 2003, according to the WHO. Most had contact with sick poultry. But health experts have warned that the virus could mutate into a form that can be easily transmitted between humans and trigger a global pandemic.
Chen Xianyi, vice director of the Health Ministry’s department of disease control said tests on the girl, who died last week in the central province of Hunan, showed she died of pneumonia.
“The test results were negative” for bird flu, Chen said.
Still, a WHO spokeswoman said the U.N. agency was still waiting for official word from Beijing.
“We’d like to know what tests were conducted,” said spokeswoman Aphaluck Bhatiasevi.
The girl lived in Wantang, a village where the government says 545 chickens and ducks died of bird flu last week. She died three days after developing a high fever on Oct. 13.
In Indonesia, authorities were waiting for test results on chickens that have died recently in Padang Sambian, a village on the outskirts of Bali’s capital, Denpasar. Bird flu has killed four people and decimated poultry stocks across the sprawling archipelago.
Also Friday, Australia’s health minister said the island continent of 20 million people would shut itself off from the rest of the world if a human flu pandemic breaks out.
“The best way of ensuring that you don’t get infected with something like this, in the absence of an effective vaccine, would be isolation,” Health Minister Tony Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio after returning from a bird flu conference in Canada.
Abbott’s announcement came as Australia warned its people to avoid travel to 15 Asian countries at risk for possible outbreaks.
In Hong Kong, a lawmaker proposed allowing the public to carry guns and shoot migratory birds suspected of carrying the virus.
“Perhaps what we should do is give each person a gun,” said lawmaker Tommy Cheung, who has a reputation for making unusual proposals, “and when we see a migrating bird, we can just shoot it down, so Hong Kong would be a much safer place.”