China:Bird flu tests to cover more species in Qinghai

The central government has agreed to test more species of migratory birds for avian flu in Qinghai Province, international health experts said in Beijing yesterday.

    "The outbreak is declining and the number of birds dying is reducing," said Julie Hall, a Beijing-based senior World Health Organization (WHO) official, who visited the province last week.

    But birds are still dying in Qinghai Province at the rate of 20 a day, said Hall, adding that the government has agreed to test other birds to see if they are carriers capable of infecting species in other areas and to share test results with the international community.

    China confirmed the bird-flu outbreak in Qinghai on May 21, saying early reports showed that the deaths of wild birds were caused by the H5N1 virus, which could mutate into a strain that could be fatal to humans.

    Samples of 12 dead birds have been sent to the national laboratory in Harbin, Northeast China´s Heilongjiang Province, for testing.

    The migratory birds are still on the island but they will begin flying to other parts of China and neighbouring countries in about a month, Hall said. "This (testing of more species) is vital if we are to give early warning to other provinces and countries," said Hall, noting that limited tagging and mapping of migratory routes was a hurdle.

    The local government has culled domestic birds and vaccinated all poultry 2-3 million in the province and closed all live poultry markets.

    Another issue is that few people have turned up for testing at township clinics despite an educational campaign - only two of the nearly 600 people who had contact with the wild birds were tested for flu because the population is so dispersed.

    Noureddin Mona, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in China who also went to Qinghai, said that measures China had taken there were effective.

    The WHO-FAO team was accompanied by officials from the Chinese Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and the State Forestry Administration.

    "We see full commitment from governments at all levels in combating the disease," Mona said.

    "The mission was very successful and fruitful, diminishing the gap between what is and what should be done in the region," said Henk Bekedam, WHO representative.

    "Dealing with wild birds in China can be used as a model for other countries for prevention and control," Bekedam said.

    Some of the recommendations made by the team are

    For birds:

    Testing as many species as possible

    Tagging and tracking for early warning

    Testing "resident" species

    Environmental sampling and decontamination.

    Domestic animals:

    Protection from wild birds

    Testing of horses and pigs

    For humans:

    All samples should be sent to Beijing for more advanced tests.