Chinese scientists have developed a vaccine against human infections of bird flu, the government said Monday.
Clinical testing on people will begin soon, Liu Yanhua, vice-minister of the Ministry of Science and Technology, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
If the tests are successful, it would be the first vaccine in the world to treat human cases of bird flu.
Experts hailed the progress, saying it demonstrates that China is at the forefront of research to fight the deadly disease.
Should human infections be found, the government is capable of containing their spread and ensure public health, they said.
Chinese scientists described the vaccine as an equivalent to Tamiflu, the anti-viral drug made by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding AG, which is so far the only medication found to be effective against bird flu.
Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, was earlier quoted by Information Times newspaper as saying the drug would be effective in treating the virus.
No other details about the medicine have been released.
The government is also stepping up production of bird flu vaccine for fowls.
The Ministry of Agriculture said that the country now produces more than 100 million doses daily, but some affected areas have reported a shortage.
The ministry said it would accelerate production of the vaccine by expanding capacity with the addition of two factories.
Meanwhile, a highly-pathogenic bird-flu outbreak has been reported in a village near Huainan city of east China's Anhui Province, the ministry said Monday. It is the ninth such outbreak in China since last month.
About 800 fowls raised by farmers in Fanwei village near Huainan died on November 6; and the national bird-flu lab confirmed Monday that the cause was the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.
More than 126,000 fowls have been culled within 3 kilometres of the epidemic zone; and all poultry markets within 10 kilometres have been closed.
In another development, health authorities are investigating the cases of people who are suspected to have been infected with H5N1 bird flu virus.
For now, experts can only confirm that an ill woman in northeast China's Liaoning Province is a serious case of pneumonia, Mao Qun'an, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told China Daily Monday.
Further tests will be done on Liu, 36, who was hospitalized with high fever on November 6.
Liu, who owns a small chicken farm in Heishan County, had helped neighbours dispose of dead chicken infected with bird flu a week before she developed high fever.
In central China's Hunan Province, a 12-year-old girl died on October 17 after developing a high fever. Her nine-year-old brother and a 36-year-old school teacher, who had the same symptoms, have recovered.
A World Health Organization (WHO) team arrived in the province Monday to probe the three suspected cases of human infection.
The six-member WHO team will work in Hunan for about one week, said Roy Wadia, WHO's China spokesman; and possibly meet the two people suspected to be infected with bird flu.
Except for Hunan and Liaoning, no other place in China has reported suspected human cases of bird flu, which has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.
(China Daily November 15, 2005)