BEIJING (AP) - A Chinese farmer contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu but has recovered, state media said Wednesday, in China's first reported human case of the disease in six months.
The 37-year-old farmer fell ill in December but "fully recovered" and was released from a hospital Saturday, the China News Service and Xinhua News Agency reported, citing the Health Ministry.
It was China's first reported human case of bird flu since a farmer died of the disease in July in the far west, becoming the mainland's 14th fatality.
The farmer had poultry in his backyard but Chinese experts were still trying to determine whether he caught the virus from them, said Joanna Brent, a World Health Organization spokeswoman in Beijing.
People who had close contact with the farmer, identified only by the surname Li, were put under medical observation but showed no signs of the disease, CNS and Xinhua said. They said he lived in the eastern city of Tunxi in Anhui province.
Human cases of bird flu have been traced to birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that can pass between people, setting off a pandemic. For now, the virus is difficult for people to catch.
China reacted quickly to the case, notifying the WHO on Tuesday, a day after tests confirmed the Anhui farmer had bird flu, according to Brent.
"It's certainly been a case of very fast and timely reporting on the part of the Chinese government," she said.
China has been criticized in the past for its slow response to health threats such as bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The communist government has created a national monitoring network and ordered local authorities to report disease cases quickly.
Brent praised Chinese authorities for ordering additional tests after a first round came back negative for the virus.
"We think both the way the central government and the provincial government responded were excellent," she said.
The China News Service said authorities in Anhui took disease-control measures but did not give details.
China reported its first human case of bird flu in 2005, while the virus was tearing through Vietnam and Thailand. The government disclosed last year that new tests on the body of a 24-year-old soldier who died in 2003 confirmed that he succumbed to the disease.
China has suffered dozens of bird flu outbreaks in its vast poultry flocks. Authorities have destroyed millions of chickens, ducks and other birds to contain outbreaks on farms.
The Anhui farmer was China's 22nd human case of bird flu.
Out of the previous 21 cases, only one was preceded by an outbreak in poultry, according to Brent.
The H5N1 virus also has been found in migratory birds in China.
Concern about potential outbreaks increases in the winter, when wild birds fly south.