A province in eastern China where a woman died of bird flu has banned the raising of chickens in cities, in an effort to prevent more people from being infected, state press reported on Thursday.
The ban in Shandong province was instituted on Wednesday after a 27-year-old woman died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in the provincial capital of Jinan at the weekend, according to the Xinhua news agency.
AdvertisementShe was one of three people to have died in China of bird flu this month, raising fears about the potential for a wider outbreak as winter temperatures drop and poultry consumption spikes for the Lunar New Year festivities.
The three deaths in January were the first in China in a year, and brought the number of fatalities in the Asian nation since the virus re-emerged in 2003 to 23.
A two-year-old girl also remained in a critical condition with bird flu in the northern province of Shanxi.
The central government had already on Tuesday ordered strengthened monitoring for bird flu at live poultry markets across the country.
It called on local authorities to close live poultry markets in cities, or at the minimum to disinfect them every day.
However the health ministry on Wednesday issued a statement seeking to allay fears over the potential for a wide outbreak of bird flu, saying all four infections were individual cases.
Humans are most at risk of contracting bird flu by handling infected poultry.
But scientists have long feared the virus could mutate to a form that could jump easily from human to human, potentially sparking a global pandemic.
China is considered one of the nations most at risk from bird flu epidemics because it has the world's biggest poultry population and many chickens in rural areas are kept close to humans.
The World Health Organisation says about 250 people have died from bird flu worldwide since 2003.