China’s H7N9 strain of bird flu has spread to a new region as Chinese health authorities confirm the first virus case in the eastern province of Shandong.

On Tuesday, the health ministry released a statement saying a 36 - year - old man was sickened by the bird flu virus in Shandong ' s Zaozhuang city. To date, the H7N9 avian influenza has claimed 22 lives. A total of 108 people in China have been infected by the virus. China officially confirmed the occurrence of human infection with the new bird flu virus late last month and a research project was formally launched on April 10 to develop a vaccine for the H7N9. The project, jointly undertaken by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the National Health and Family Planning Commission, aims to produce a vaccine for the virus within the next seven months. This comes while the World Health Organization(WHO) says there is no evidence that the H7N9 virus can spread among human beings. On April 19, the WHO regional spokesman Timothy O’Leary said “Right now it is still an animal virus that rarely infects humans. ” The Geneva - based world body also sent a team of international experts to China to investigate the new bird flu virus. H7N9 is distinct from the H5N1 virus, which since 2003 has caused more than 360 confirmed human deaths and killed about tens of millions of birds.