China on Monday reported a new case of bird flu in poultry in the country's east — its ninth outbreak since Oct. 19.
The news, announced on government television, came as experts from the World Health Organization were in central China to help determine whether bird flu killed a 12-year-old girl and sickened two other people in a village that suffered an outbreak in poultry last month.
China has not confirmed any human cases of bird flu, but authorities have warned that it is inevitable if they cannot control outbreaks among the country's vast poultry flocks.
The newest outbreak in poultry was in Huainan, a city in Anhui province, China Central Television said. The case was first reported on Nov. 6, when 800 domestic poultry died, it said.
It was confirmed Monday to be the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu, CCTV said.
Some 126,000 poultry within three kilometers (two miles) of the affected area were slaughtered as a precaution, it said.
It was the second time in a month that Anhui has reported an epidemic in its poultry. The last one was confirmed Oct. 24 in the city of Tianchang, where 2,100 geese and chickens were found dead of the virus.
The six-member WHO team headed to Hunan on Monday and will stay there for about a week helping Chinese investigators, said Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing. They will be led by an epidemiologist from the WHO office in the Chinese capital.
The team will meet with provincial officials and possibly visit the two patients — or their families — who became ill in Wantang village, where the government says 545 chickens and ducks died of bird flu last month.
"They'll see where things are at this moment," Wadia said.
The 12-year-old girl died Oct. 17 after developing a high fever. Her 9-year-old brother, who showed the same symptoms, was discharged from a hospital over the weekend although doctors were still doing blood tests. A 36-year-old schoolteacher was said to be recovering.
Bird flu has killed at least 64 people in Asia since 2003, two-thirds of them in Vietnam. Most are known to have come in contact with infected birds.
Health experts warn that the virus could mutate into a form that can easily be passed between people, possibly sparking a flu pandemic that could kill millions.
Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said China had developed a drug equivalent to Tamiflu, an antiviral believed to be the best available treatment for bird flu in humans.
"It has some effect in treatment against the virus," Zhong, who was at the forefront of SARS research, said in an interview published Sunday in the Information Times newspaper. "There will be a new development in the near future."
The report did not give any details on the Chinese drug or when it will be available.
The Swiss maker of Tamiflu, Roche, said it halted sales in China on Nov. 1 and was turning over supplies to the government as officials were ordered to prepare to treat possible human cases of bird flu.
China has more than 14 billion farm poultry, accounting for almost 21 percent of the world's total.
Outbreaks have been reported throughout the country — Inner Mongolia and Liaoning in the north, Anhui in the east and Hunan and Hubei in central China. Dead birds were also reported earlier this year in the western areas of Xinjiang and Qinghai.
Local governments have been tightening surveillance and response measures, Xinhua News Agency said.
Provincial officials have held meetings on prevention and control and have launched "all-around mobilization," Xinhua said.
"Many provinces have established quick-response mechanisms on major animal-related epidemics, and set up the 24-hour on-watch systems," the ministry said.
Some have raised money to buy disinfection products, equipment and protective suits, Xinhua said.
Shanxi province in the north has given free injections for poultry raised by farmers, while Zhejiang province in the east has appointed one person to report epidemics in each village.