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Nation on Alert Against Bird Flu Outbreak
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China's vice agricultural minister on Thursday ordered local officials to stay vigilant for possible bird flu as the season began to change.

"The autumn and winter are the prime period for bird flu outbreak, officials should be aware of the stern situation and should not underestimate the difficulties in virus control," said Yin Chengjie, the vice minister of agriculture.

Addressing a televised workshop on bird flu control, Yin said the virus prevention situation in China is still "serious".

The transport of live fowls might spread the virus, migrant birds would possibly trigger new outbreak, and we still have shortfalls in prevention that urgently needs to be overcome, Yin said.

"We should not underestimate the harms bird flu cause to the people' life," Yin said, ordering the local governments to enhance virus immunization before October 20.

The ministry Wednesday reported a new outbreak of bird flu that has killed about 1,000 domestic poultry in a village in northwestern China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. A national laboratory test confirmed on Tuesday that the dead birds were infected with the H5N1 strain of bird flu virus.

It is the second case of bird flue outbreak for the week, following another found in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on September 27, which killed 985 chickens.

Some provinces were preparing too slowly and did not have enough staff, vaccines or funds. The problem was especially acute in villages, Yin said, without naming specific parts of the country.

It was important to step up measures ahead of the autumn, when migrating birds which have been blamed for outbreaks in the past would pass through China again, he said.

Yin said the provinces must ready their emergency response systems and ensure there were enough good quality vaccines.

He said his ministry would dispatch teams to the countryside to ensure measures being taken were up to scratch.

"We cannot lower our guard," he said.

Scientists fear the bird flu virus could mutate into a form that could pass easily from person to person, sparking a global pandemic.

Yet many ordinary people are not yet aware of the severe situation.

The Xinhua news agency reported on a survey by the Chinese Health Education Association that said only 8 percent of respondents viewed flu of any kind as being a "serious infectious disease."

Almost a quarter of those polled had no idea that bird flu outbreaks had to be reported to government authorities.

To improve the situation, a public education program jointly initiated by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF has been launched in rural areas. It will be carried out in 1,344 towns of 16 provinces and regions.

High-risk groups including children, poultry-breeding farmers, vendors, poultry processors and village officials will be the main targets of the education.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily October 6, 2006)

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