BEIJING, Nov. 18 -- The World Health Organization said Thursday it does not expect a large number of people to be infected with bird flu in China, one day after the government reported the country's first two human cases.
But the WHO said China faces special challenges in fighting the spread of bird flu despite the "impressive" government commitment.
The fact China has reported human cases does not increase the risk of the disease becoming a pandemic but there could be more human cases than authorities know about, Henk Bekedam, the head of WHO's office in China, told a news conference.
"That's always of course possible...as long as there are poultry outbreaks, people will be exposed to the virus. You can expect that people might get infected," Bekedam said.
"On the other hand, I would like to stress...the current virus is not easily transmittable to humans. We don't expect a large number of cases."
He said the WHO was confident with the government's "strong" response and political commitment, especially a visit by Premier Wen Jiabao to an outbreak area recently.
But Bekedam added: "China has many challenges. China has a large poultry population of 14 billion and 70 percent of that poultry is being kept in the backyard."
Outbreaks in these small family farms might be reported "a bit late" and it is difficult to monitor poultry there, he said.
Difficulties are compounded by the country's vast size and the fact that it is normal for some poultry to die in farms, Bekedam said.
Another challenge is that some poor farmers, lacking awareness, sometimes eat the diseased poultry.
The key for China was to properly compensate farmers so they will not hide outbreaks to avoid mandatory culls, and to keep track of the virus.