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Have 300 Chinese Really Died of Bird Flu?


A few days ago came reports that a reputable Japanese scientist had told a conference in Germany that confidential sources had revealed to him that 300 people had died in China from H5N1 bird flu, including seven cases of human-to-human transmission.

 

According to the report, the scientist, Masato Tashiro, head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease, had learned of the deaths while working with WHO to investigate a flu outbreak in Hunan.

 

The Chinese Health Ministry has denied the report:

 

The ministry said what the virologist claimed in the report was "sheer rumor." "The Ministry of Health has checked with the WHO and verified that there was not a single Japanese virologist among the specialists sent by the WHO to investigate the bird flu epidemic in Hunan," a ministry spokesman said. The Japanese virologist's allegation that several hundred Chinese people died of bird flu was not based on facts, the ministry said in a statement made available to China Daily Friday night.

 

A WHO spokesperson said at a press conference in Geneva that China and the organization have co-operated well on bird flu, and China has not concealed any human infections, said the statement. So far, the mainland has confirmed three cases of human infection of H5N1 bird flu virus, the statement said.

 

Now comes a statement from Dr Tashiro, in a letter to the Pro-MED-mail website of the International Society for Infectious Diseases:

 

In my presentation at the meeting in Marburg, I stated that WHO's official numbers of H5N1 human cases are only based on laboratory confirmed cases.  It should be therefore an iceberg phenomenon.  Due to poorly organized surveillance and information sharing systems in many affected countries including China, it is reasonable to consider that more cases have occurred actually.  We have heard many 'rumors' or unauthorized information which we cannot confirm.  In this context, I talked about a few examples of non-authorized information and rumors about Asian countries which I received through private channels.  I clarified that I do not know the original sources and I cannot confirm whether they are true, how these numbers were derived and what laboratory tests and epidemiological investigation were done.

 

Therefore, the article cited in ProMED-mail is incorrect and misleading. I did not receive any interview during my stay in Germany. I did not say anything that I believe the figures of the unauthorized information.

 

My message at the meeting was that international societies should help China to establish and perform nationwide surveillance and information sharing systems.  I do not think that the Chinese Authority will conceal the facts from the world.  Since the SARS event, they are collaborative to WHO. But they may have still limited capacity to monitor all human cases particularly in rural areas.

 

However, the ProMED-mail editor added the following translation of a front-page article in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper on November 24th:

 

One of the participants in the meeting, Prof Hans-Dieter Klenk from Marburg University in Germany, confirmed --  in an interview with "Haaretz" yesterday [23 Nov 2005] -- the quote from Dr Masato Tashiro of the Japanese Ministry of Health. "Dr Masato presented a well-detailed table, in Chinese, which included more than 300 human fatalities, resulting from avian influenza, recorded in China during recent years", said Prof Klenk yesterday. "He [Dr Tashiro] said that he had received the unofficial report during his visit to China in recent weeks", said Klenk". 

 

To help clarify the various conflicting reports, Pro-MED-mail asked Dr Tashiro some questions:

 

You were indeed in Hunan Province?

No, I was not there this time.

 

The dates you were there?

I have visited there before.

 

You were part of a WHO mission?

I was not a member of the WHO mission this time.

 

You showed a slide in Germany showing more than 300 deaths from avian flu?

As an example of unauthorized information, I showed a slide which I received from a private source. This indicates more than 200 deaths distributed in several provinces.

 

You were told that 7 of the cases resulted from human-to-human transmission?

The information I received indicated some human-to-human transmission cases, although details were not clear.

    

Martin Roth

November 27th, 2005