As bird flu outbreaks continued among wild and domestic fowl in China, the government greatly expanded its poultry vaccination program along with large-scale culling of domestic poultry in affected areas. At the same time, Chinese scientists prepared to test the first human-use vaccine against bird flu.

Vice Minister of Agriculture Yin Chengjie told a Nov. 21 press conference that 21 outbreaks of bird flu have been confirmed in nine different regions. He said the outbreaks, linked to migratory and wild birds, had killed over 144,000 domestic poultry. Over 21 million more had been culled as a preventive measure, under a government program to kill all poultry within three kilometers of outbreaks.

Yin also noted that backward chicken farming methods and the large proportion of poultry raised by households were making prevention and control more difficult.

China is the world’s largest producer of poultry. On Nov. 15, the government announced a program to vaccinate all the country’s more than 14 billion farm birds.

Meanwhile, the first two cases of bird flu in humans on the Chinese mainland were confirmed — a 9-year-old boy in Hunan Province who recovered, and a 24-year-old woman in Anhui province who died Nov. 10.

Roy Wadia, World Health Organization spokesperson in Beijing, said China has provided regular information on outbreaks to the WHO and other international agencies. “Regular, open communication has been key in keeping the international community abreast of the situation,” he added.

Signaling government attention at the highest level, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premiers Wui Yi and Hui Liangyu visited the Beijing Kexing Biological Product Company, also known as Sinovac Biotech, on Nov. 17. There, scientists have applied to the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials of human-use bird flu vaccine and are prepared to start production as soon as approval is granted.

Calling the bird flu situation “severe,” Wen urged stepped up progress in monitoring and prevention of the disease.

Besides allocating extensive subsidies for the nationwide vaccination program, the government is compensating farmers $1.20 for each bird killed. But Agriculture Vice Minister Yin said earlier this month that such compensation can’t make up for the huge losses suffered by farmers, some of whom make nearly half their income from raising poultry. Other government officials have noted that the success of efforts to speed the growth of farmers’ incomes depends on stamping out the bird flu epidemic.

In other measures, the government cut taxes of businesses and individuals who raise, process or sell poultry, and said it would refund value-added tax on all poultry products until mid-2006.

mbechtel @