Chinese bus driver with bird flu dies

Health workers slaughter chickens at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. Hong Kong health authorities are slaughtering more than 17,000 chickens at a market after a chicken carcass there was found to be infected with bird flu. AP Photo/Kin Cheung

BEIJING — A Chinese bus driver who tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus died Saturday in a city bordering Hong Kong, health officials said, in the country's first reported case of the disease in humans in 18 months.

The man surnamed Chen died in the wealthy southern city of Shenzhen, provincial health officials said. Shenzhen is separated by a small river from Hong Kong, where thousands of birds have been slaughtered after two were confirmed to have the virus last week.

During the month prior to his fever, Chen, 39, apparently had no direct contact with poultry and did not travel out of Shenzhen, a metropolis of 10 million people.

H5N1 rarely infects humans and usually only those who come into close contact with diseased poultry. But among those infected, nearly 60 percent die, and scientists are closely watching the virus for any signs it is becoming more easily transmissible from human to human.

Chen developed a fever on Dec. 21 and was hospitalized on Dec. 25, city and provincial authorities said in a statement. Health Ministry experts confirmed on Saturday that he was infected with H5N1, the provincial health department said.

The Guangdong health department also said 120 people who had close contact with Chen have not developed any abnormal symptoms.

The Ministry of Health has informed the World Health Organization about the case, local authorities said.

WHO says globally there have been 336 human deaths from 573 confirmed bird flu cases since 2003. Of these, 40 cases were in China, 26 of which were fatal.

Chen's death comes a week after two dead birds tested positive for the virus in Hong Kong.

More than 19,000 birds at a Hong Kong market were slaughtered and imports and sales of live poultry were banned for three weeks after a chicken carcass tested positive for H5N1. Lab tests later confirmed that an Oriental magpie robin found dead on Dec. 17 was also infected.

China's last reported human case of H5N1 was in June 2010. A pregnant 22-year-old woman from central Hubei province died after being exposed to sick and dead poultry.

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