BEIJING, China (AP) —— China is investigating whether three people —— including a 12-year-old girl who died —— in a village hit by bird flu in poultry are the nation's first known human cases of the disease.
All three earlier tested negative for the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu, but experts said the disease could not be ruled out and asked for help from the World Health Organization in conducting new tests, the government's Xinhua News Agency said.
All three lived in or near Wantang, a village in the central province of Hunan where the government says 545 chickens and ducks died of bird flu last month.
The girl, He Yin, who came into "close contact with sick birds," died last month after developing a high fever, Xinhua said. Her 9-year-old brother was hospitalized with similar symptoms but recovered.
The third suspected case was a 36-year-old middle school teacher who reportedly fell ill after chopping raw chicken while suffering from a minor injury to his hand, Xinhua said. He also was recovering.
"Although the three cases are diagnosed as pneumonia of unknown causes at present, the possibility of human infection of the highly deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu cannot be ruled out," Xinhua said Sunday, citing an unnamed health ministry spokesman.
Vice Premier Hui Liangyu called for tougher controls against bird flu, calling it the No. 1 killer of Chinese poultry and "a major threat to public health and security," Xinhua reported.
Roy Wadia, a spokesman for WHO in Beijing, said it was not unusual for someone thought to be infected with a virus such as H5N1 to initially test negative but later test positive.
Wadia said samples from the villagers might be sent to a WHO lab, or WHO experts could be asked to help Chinese officials perform the tests in China.
"This is a reiteration of how much of a public health threat bird flu really is," Wadia said. "No country —— whether China or anywhere else —— can afford to be complacent."
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed at least 62 people in Southeast Asia since it emerged in 2003. China has reported no human cases thus far.
Wadia said China approached WHO for help last week. He did not give a specific date.
China, which was heavily criticized during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, for initially covering up the illness, has pledged it will be more open about reporting on bird flu.
Meanwhile, a bird flu outbreak in northern China that sparked the culling of about 370,000 birds lies along a migration route that spans from East Asia to Australia, a media report said Sunday, as officials continued killing thousands of birds east of Beijing.
Around 1,700 Chinese officials and armed police culled poultry in Liaoning province's Badaohao village, close to the border with North Korea, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The Badaohao outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu strain —— the fourth in China in three weeks —— killed 8,940 chickens and prompted authorities to destroy 369,900 other birds, the government has said.
More than 20 magpies and other migratory birds were spotted in the area, Xinhua said without giving further details.
Chinese authorities have said they are concerned that wild birds might spread the virus, particularly following an outbreak last spring that killed more than 6,000 migratory geese and gulls at northwestern China's Qinghai Lake. (Global bird migration paths)
The State Forestry Bureau said last month it was activating a reporting network to detect outbreaks among wild birds.
Tougher regulations Meanwhile in Beijing, new regulations went into effect Sunday that allow detention for up to 15 days and fines of up to 200 yuan ($25) for anyone who fails to immunize their birds, the Beijing Morning Post reported.
The rules, announced jointly by the Beijing Agricultural Bureau and the Beijing Public Security Bureau, are aimed at ensuring a 100 percent bird vaccination rate in the capital, the newspaper said.
Elsewhere, Japan is mulling a plan to give 300 million yen ($2.6 million) to the WHO to help combat bird flu and other infectious outbreaks in developing countries, the national newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun reported Sunday, citing unnamed government sources.
Tokyo, which gave around 160 million yen ($1.36 million) to the global health agency for 2005, said the money would be used to improve surveillance of infection routes of bird flu and SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, the report said.
The response comes a day after Indonesian officials confirmed that a 19-year-old woman died of bird flu, bringing the number of people killed by the disease in Indonesia to five.
The woman, from the town of Tangerang on the outskirts of the capital, Jakarta, was believed to have contracted the virus from infected dead chickens in her neighborhood, Ministry of Health official Hariadi Wibisono said Saturday.
An 8-year-old boy from her family was hospitalized with the virus, but it was not immediately clear how the young boy contracted the disease.