A man died in southern China on Sunday from the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Health Ministry reported. It was China’s second such death in less than a month.
The latest victim, an unidentified 39-year-old, fell ill on Jan. 6 and was admitted to a hospital in Guizhou Province the same day, the Health Ministry said in a statement reported by Xinhua, the official news agency.
A 39-year-old bus driver in Shenzhen, a city in Guangdong Province near Hong Kong, died of the disease on Dec. 31.
Both deaths were notable because neither victim reported any contact with birds in the month preceding his illness. The virus is known to spread through contract with infected birds, eggs or bird feces, but experts said a pandemic could occur were it to mutate into a form that was more easily spread.
In the latest case, the victim “did not report obvious exposure history to poultry before the onset of symptoms,” according to the bulletin from Hong Kong. But the Chinese authorities, who are monitoring 71 people known to have been in contact with the victim, have found no other evidence of flu, the ministry reported.
People who were in contact with the Shenzhen victim also have remained symptom-free, leading some experts to conclude that neither case involved transmission among humans. On Sunday, Chinese censors generally blocked Internet users from reading reports of the latest death.
Worldwide, bird flu has killed 343 of the 582 people who are known to have been infected, according to the World Health Organization, including 28 of the 42 infected Chinese victims. With the world’s largest poultry population, and close contact between birds and people in rural areas, China is regarded as a major breeding ground for the disease.
Vietnam has reported 60 deaths, including that of an 18-year-old duck farmer last week. A victim in Indonesia also recently died.