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Bird Flu Pandemic 'Unlikely'

The expanding outbreak of bird flu in Asia is "nowhere close" to being declared a pandemic, international health experts said.

"I think it's very important at this stage that we remain calm about worst-case scenarios," Mike Ryan, the WHO's chief of global epidemic response, said at an international emergency meeting in Rome on Wednesday.

"What we're dealing with at the moment is small clusters of cases associated with exposure to poultry," Ryan told reporters.

Meanwhile, China sought to coordinate efforts to curb bird flu across its vast territory as it confirmed a previous suspected bird flu outbreak in Chenggong County in Yunnan Province. No person has been reported to have contracted the disease so far.

The Agriculture Ministry announced Wednesday two more areas where suspected outbreaks of bird flu had been found.

The two areas are Guandu District in Kunming, Yunnan's capital city, and Gaolan County in Gansu Province, northwest China.

As soon as the suspected cases were detected, local governments began slaughtering chickens and implementing compulsory vaccinations.

Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an said checkups had been performed on 588 people who had close contact with infected poultry, and none had the disease, the China Daily newspaper said Wednesday.

With suspected poultry cases in areas thousands of kilometers apart, the central government was seeking a coordinated, national response.

A new National Bird Flu Prevention Headquarters has opened in Beijing to oversee regional efforts to kill all sick birds and keep a close watch on people who handled them.

Authorities have been killing and inoculating poultry near suspected outbreaks.

Hundreds of thousands of birds have been slaughtered and the government is paying compensation to farmers.

New regulations stipulate that new poultry dwellings must be built at least 500 meters from any residence, the Beijing Youth Daily said. It was not clear when the rules would take effect or how they would be enforced in a country where many farm families raise chickens in their yards.

The Ministry of Railways said birds without quarantine certificates would not be allowed on trains, aircraft or ships entering China must undergo inspection, Xinhua News Agency reported.

The western metropolis of Chongqing has banned the transport of poultry on open trucks and Shanghai has been scrubbing pigeon droppings from public plazas.

Outside Beijing, the Badaling Safari Park has stopped feeding live chickens to lions and tigers, giving them beef instead, Xinhua said.

About 10 Asian countries and regions were affected by the bird flu virus, with the death toll from the disease rising to around 14. Tens of thousands of chickens have been killed to keep the disease from spreading.

On Tuesday, Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the WHO Western Pacific Regional office, said in an interview with Xinhua that Asian countries afflicted with bird flu should change their lifestyle and ways of breeding chickens to prevent and control the virus.

These countries should adopt a more healthy and cautious way in raising and selling chickens, he said.

He said it was quite common in Asia for farmers to live close to chickens and sell live chickens on the market. This proximity greatly raised the possibility for humans to be infected with bird flu, he said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 4, 2004)

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