BEIJING - A 21-year-old woman in central China has been infected by the H5N1 strain of bird flu in the country's eighth reported case of the disease this year, the Health Ministry said.

The woman, a farmer surnamed Shu in the central province of Hunan, fell ill Jan. 23 after handling poultry that died from virus, the ministry said on its Web site late Saturday without giving more details. She was in stable condition and recovering, it said.

China has reported seven other cases of H5N1 since January, five of which were fatal.

The virulent virus has killed 254 people worldwide since 2003, including 25 in China, according to the World Health Organization.

While the disease remains hard for humans to catch, scientists have warned if outbreaks among poultry are not controlled, the virus may mutate into a form more easily passed between people, possibly triggering a pandemic that could kill millions worldwide.