Beijing - A 22-year-old Chinese man from the central province of Hunan has died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu, the second death from the disease since late last year, the Health Ministry said on Monday.

The man, surnamed Li, first noticed symptoms of fever and headache on Jan. 16. He went to hospital several days later and died on Jan. 24, the ministry said on its Web site.

The provincial disease control and prevention centre subsequently collected a specimen from the victim on Feb. 15, and the initial tests for the bird flu virus were positive.

A specimen was then sent to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing, which confirmed it as testing positive for the H5N1 virus on Sunday, the ministry said.

The ministry did not explain the reason for the delay in testing the victim for bird flu, but Hunan was one of the provinces most badly hit by freak snowstorms that killed more than 100 people and cut off roads and power in many parts of central and southern China in late January and early February.

The ministry said the local government had taken appropriate action.

"All people in close contact with the victim have been given strict medical examinations, and up until now no abnormal conditions have been discovered," it said in its statement.

It added that it had informed the World Health Organisation and other foreign government authorities of the case.

With the world's biggest poultry population and millions of backyard birds roaming free, China is at the centre of the fight against bird flu. The country has now had 28 human cases, including 18 deaths.

Scientists fear the bird flu virus could mutate into a form that could pass easily from person to person, sparking a global pandemic.

(Reporting by Jason Subler)