Bird flu
Health workers slaughter chickens at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong. PA

After a brief respite, the highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu) virus has resurfaced, sending alarm signals across several parts of Asia.

A bus driver in China became the latest victim to the H5N1 virus. The 39-year-old man, surnamed Chen, died of multiple organ failure over the weekend.

The man, from Bao'an district of Shenzhen which borders Hong Kong, was admitted to a local hospital in southern China following fever and related conditions in late December. Further tests confirmed the virus. Health officials are reportedly monitoring more than a 100 people who were in close contact with the victim. But none of them has shown any symptoms so far, experts have said.

Close on the heels of the reported death, health officials in neighbouring Hong Kong slaughtered nearly 20,000 chickens following the discovery of a dead bird infected with the virus in a poultry market. As a precautionary measure, Hong Kong authorities banned the import of poultry from neighbouring areas including Shenzhen and declared an "import control zone".

The Centre for Food Safety of Hong Kong's Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has issued a high alert and called upon local residents to remain vigilant and ensure personal hygiene. Travellers have been urged to avoid direct contact with poultry and birds or their droppings.

The scare came hard on the heels of a health alert at the Hong Kong government's new HQ where fears rose of an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease.

Hong Kong has not seen any major bird flu outbreak so far, but a few cases of infected poultry have been reported from the country over the past decade.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials have clarified that the latest strain of the virus that killed a man in the south of the country is still not transmissible between humans. An analysis of the genes showed that the virus spread directly from poultry to the victim.

The lethal virus, which was detected for the first time in 1997, has so far claimed more than 300 lives from nearly 500 human cases reported worldwide, mostly in Asian countries. The first confirmed case was reported from Hong Kong. The virus was also reported from parts of Europe and Africa.