Health ministry rejects study showing deadly bird flu spread from southern China The mainland last night reported its eighth human death from H5N1 bird flu, as Hong Kong confirmed a dead chicken dumped in Tuen Mun and a wild bird found at a Mongkok school this week had the virus. The developments came as the World Health Organisation called for swift action following the discovery of more bird flu outbreaks in Nigeria, West Africa. The eighth person on the mainland to die from H5N1 was a 20-year-old woman in Suining county, Hunan , the Ministry of Health said. She was a farmer who had slaughtered live poultry. She died a week ago, about a week after she came down with a fever and pneumonia symptoms. Two-thirds of the 12 people diagnosed with H5N1 on the mainland have now died. Meanwhile, the mainland's health ministry rejected as untrue research released this week showing H5N1 had been endemic in southern China for a decade and four separate strains had spread from there through Asia and to Europe. The research, by eminent scientists including University of Hong Kong bird flu geneticist Guan Yi and HKU visiting professor in microbiology Robert Webster, was published online in the US Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Mao Qunan, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the study was not thorough and had jumped to conclusions. Its theory that H5N1 had spread from southern China was vague and unconvincing, he said. 'If the virus strains found in Vietnam and Thailand a year or two earlier are the same as ours, can we [not] say they are the origin of the virus?' Confirmation that a chicken found in Wu Tai Circuit, Tuen Mun, a week ago and a Japanese white-eye recovered from Diocesan Boys' School had H5N1 takes to eight the number of birds found with the virus in Hong Kong. Two are chickens and six native birds. Professor Guan said genetic analysis of the first chicken and first of the wild birds found with H5N1 showed a common source for their infection - a virus strain previously found in southern China, Korea and Japan. The South China Morning Post can also reveal that the Hong Kong government was advised as early as January 2004 by overseas experts that bird flu infections in the city originated from southern China, were spread through live poultry markets and from there infected local farms. The report, made after Hong Kong experienced a previous outbreak in mid-2003, said there was a substantially higher risk of poultry imported from the mainland causing new outbreaks than of locally bred birds spreading the virus. It concluded that backyard poultry farms, minor poultry species, human travellers and direct contact with wild birds were of 'greatest concern' in fighting the spread of H5N1 in Hong Kong. The research, by a team led by Roger Morris, director of the Massey University EpiCentre in New Zealand, was commissioned to assess the risk of bird flu in Hong Kong and to suggest an integrated strategy to manage risks. The $400,000 report, commissioned by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, was submitted to the Health, Welfare and Food Bureau in January 2004. The bureau said it could not comment when asked last night about the report's existence.