Toddler critically ill with bird flu

January 18, 2009 7:50:10 AM PST
A 2-year-old girl in northern China has tested positive for bird flu and is in critical condition -- the second case of human infection in a month. The girl fell ill on Jan. 7 in central Hunan province and was taken to a hospital by her grandparents four days later after she returned home to Shanxi province, the Health Ministry said in a notice on its Web site late Saturday.

Tests confirmed she was infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus, it said. It did not say how she was infected or what she was doing in Hunan.

All the people who had close contact with the girl were under medical observation, the ministry said, and so far no one else has been found ill.

The case comes at a worrisome time for authorities as tens of millions of people are on the move traveling between cities and rural hometowns for Chinese New Year, which begins on Jan. 26. The Agricultural Ministry has said it will step up checks before the holiday.

A 19-year-old woman died from the bird flu virus at the beginning of January in a Beijing hospital after contact with poultry. The World Health Organization said the case did not appear to signal a new public health threat.

Health officials worry the H5N1 virus could mutate into a form that could spread easily among people.

According to the latest WHO tally, bird flu has killed 248 people worldwide since 2003, including 21 in China.

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