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[BEIJING] The deadly H5N1 bird flu virus has killed more than 1,000 wild birds in China's northwestern Qinghai Province, the country's Ministry of Agriculture confirmed today (27 May) at a news conference.

Among the species killed are migratory geese and gulls, raising fears that such species could carry the virus long distances.

Jia Youling, director-general of the ministry's veterinary bureau, also admitted three new outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in cattle this month, in addition to two cases in April.

Jia said that neither domestic poultry nor any people have been infected by bird flu in China, and that the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is under control.

Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a virus that leads to severe weight loss in cloven-hoofed animals, such as pigs, cow and sheep. It does not affect humans. Scientists say, however, that the H5N1 avian flu virus could cause a human influenza pandemic, killing millions and resulting in devastating economic losses.

According to Jia, the Asian-I type of foot and mouth disease — one of the seven types — appeared in eastern provinces of Shandong and Jiangsu in early April and in suburban Beijing, the northern province of Hebei and the northwestern autonomous region Xinjiang in May.

On 13 May, China reported the foot and mouth disease cases to the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, known as OIE. It was the first time China has publicly admitted to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Jia says the foot-and-mouth outbreak is very likely to have originated outside China, and has been spread within the country through transportation of cattle. Genetic studies aiming to identify the origin of the outbreak are underway.

Between April and May, China culled 4,383 cows and limited access to areas affected by the outbreak to curb its spread.

To stop the spread of bird flu, China has closed nature reserves in Qinghai, vaccinated all of the province's 2.2 million poultry and eliminated sources of drinking water used by both wild birds and poultry.

At the press conference, Jia dismissed the suggestion that foot-and-mouth disease is spreading in pigs across ten Chinese provinces.