China Reports Human Bird Flu Death with Unknown Infection Source

Washington – The Ministry of Health in China reports another human death attributed to the highly pathogenic avian influenza strain H5N1, but the source of the patient’s infection is proving difficult to identify.

This most recent case – China’s 21st reported human case since 2003 – is of a 62-year-old male farmer from Xinjiang who developed symptoms on June 19 and died on July 12. Attribution of his death to the H5N1 strain that has killed almost 140 people worldwide was only confirmed after a second round of specimen tests, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report, which verified the announcement from China.

This strain of flu has killed hundreds of millions of birds as it has charged across Asia and most recently into Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Among the countless occasions that humans have been exposed to ailing birds, almost 240 cases of human sickness have been detected, resulting in 139 deaths.

International health officials warn that the virus could mutate to become more contagious among humans, a development that could lead to a global influenza pandemic.

Because of that threat, health officials are concerned about looking at every human infection and identifying how or where the individual might have come into contact with the virus, and who else might have been exposed.  In many cases, the path of exposure has been obvious - the patient was known to have handled or slaughtered birds that demonstrated visible signs of illness.

In this most recent case in China, the source of infection is not so obvious. The WHO reports that the disease investigators have been unable to find that the Xinjiang farmer had a history of exposure to dead or ailing birds, and no recent outbreaks had been reported in the vicinity of the man’s home.

The inability of the epidemiological team to trace the infection could suggest that the man’s exposure came through some vector that has not been identified previously.


The Ministry of Health in Indonesia reported the survival of a 17-year-old male from West Java Province after more than two weeks of sickness with respiratory symptoms. When he was admitted to the hospital August 9, health care workers suspected H5N1 because of the young man’s exposure to poultry and the presentation of his symptoms.

Tests resulted confirmed August 12 that the young man now recovering was infected with H5N1, according to an August 14 WHO report.

The United States is one of the world’s leading international donors helping vulnerable nations respond to the threat of bird flu. (See fact sheet.)

For ongoing coverage of the disease and international efforts to combat it, see Bird Flu (Avian Influenza).