H7N9 has cost China £4.2bn (Reuters)
An outbreak of the H7N9 virus in China last year led to the slaughter of thousands of birds.Reuters

Officials in China have confirmed the first death from H5N6, the world's first human case of the bird flu virus subtype.

The Health and Family Planning Commission of Sichuan Province said a 49-year-old man from Nanchong City in southwest China died from the infection after being exposed to dead poultry, Xinhua news agency reported. 

ProMED-mail, which is run by the US-based International Society for Infectious Diseases, said: "To the best of our knowledge, this is the first human case of H5N6."

Experts believe the risk of contagion is low, as people who had close contact with the man have shown no symptoms of the virus.

The man was initially diagnosed with having pneumonia, the Bangkok Post reported. However, tests from a throat swab showed he had the H5N6 strain of bird flu.

The Hong Kong Department of Health said it was monitoring the situation, while Taiwan's Central News Agency said the government has issued a travel warning for the Sichuan Province following the death.

"People traveling to Sichuan should take precautions for their health and refrain from coming into contact with fowl, either live or dead," said Chuang Jen-hsiang, deputy director-general of the Centres for Disease Control.

The CDC has increased the alert level for the Sichuan Province to level two on its three-level scale.

The news agency noted that the H5N6 virus has previously been found in Germany, Sweden and the US.

It was also found in bird faeces in 2004 in Taipei nature reserve, which is home to migratory birds. However, it has never been found in locally raised poultry before.