Man dies of bird flu in southern China24th January 2012
A man in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou has died after three days of hospitalisation, according to official media reports.
None of the men with whom the man had contact seemed to show any signs of sickness so far.
But researchers fear that the H5N1 strain of influenza, also known as bird flu, could become far more deadly if it were to mutate into a form that could be easily spread between human beings.
Currently, H5N1 kills most strains of birds it infects, and kills 60% of all of the humans it infects.
The virus is mainly active in East Asia during the winter months, and one other person has also recently died after being infected by H5N1.
Last week, Vietnam also reported one bird flu fatality, in an 18-year-old man who worked with poultry on a duck farm.
A two-year-old boy in Cambodia also died of bird flu, last week. The Chinese man who died was 39 years old.
He died in intensive care in a hospital in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou, after suffering from fever for a few weeks.
While the Chinese report failed to say whether or not the man had recent contact with birds, the Hong Kong Department of Health said that the man had not had any contact with poultry, according to reports it had received.
While researchers have reported cases in which the virus spread from birds to humans, cases in which the virus spread between human beings are much less common.
But Chinese authorities are worried that the virus may be able to spread more rapidly than usual during Chinese New Year, which is currently taking place, since so many people will be travelling in crowded buses and trains to visit their family.
Migratory birds also disperse the virus between distant locations.
A 39-year-old bus driver from Shenzhen died of the virus only a few weeks ago, more than a day's travel by train from Shenzhen.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, there have been 343 human deaths of the 582 confirmed H5N1 infections since 2003, marking out the bird flu virus as unusually deadly.
The WHO has never identified a sustained human-to-human spread of the virus.
To date, official counts record 27 mortalities among Chinese and 60 among Vietnamese people from H5N1.
Scientists around the world have now decided to suspend research into a modified version of the virus that had already been proven to spread quickly between mammals.
While the research may eventually produce a vaccine, it is also controversial.
The Spanish flu outbreak killed between 20 million and 40 million people around the world, around the beginning of the last century.
Researchers usually conduct studies on ferrets, since the mammals transmit viruses in much the same way as humans.
The scientists plan to use the following two months to communicate the results of their studies to the scientific community at large.
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