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Bird Flu - Archives


China Accused Again
Newspapers are reporting that China has not been sharing important bird flu information:

The World Health Organisation blasted China's agriculture ministry yesterday for not sharing samples of a newly discovered strain of bird flu, complicating the health watchdog's efforts to track the virus's spread.

The WHO's comments came after a scientific report published earlier this week suggested the new strain - called H5N1 Fujian-like - is now widespread across much of southern China and South-east Asia.

Despite that prevalence, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has not given the WHO any samples of the new strain, said Julie Hall, an infectious disease expert at the WHO's Beijing office.

"There's a stark contrast between what we're hearing from the researchers and what the ministry of agriculture says," said Dr Hall. "Unless the ministry tell us what's going on and shares viruses on a regular basis, we will be doing diagnostics on strains that are old."

She said the MOA has not shared any bird-flu samples with the WHO since 2004.

November 3rd, 2006



Chinese scientists are warning of a major bird flu outbreak in the country this coming winter or spring.

Such an outbreak, which would hit poultry and human beings, would probably take place as common flu cases reach their peak, said Zeng Guang, chief epidemiology scientist at China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zeng said that the three major bird flu outbreaks over the past three years had all taken place during the winter or spring.

September 25th, 2006

China Confesses
China has announced that its first human bird flu death was in November 2003, two years earlier than previously reported. Until now it had been thought that the first human deaths of the current outbreak were in Vietnam in December 2003.

According to a bland statement from WHO:

The [Chinese] Ministry of Health has informed WHO of its intention to strengthen communication mechanisms, and to ensure that more of the country’s research institutes are integrated into the reporting system.
August 9th, 2006


China - A Long History of Cover-Ups
A strange story from China. A goose farmer has been jailed after - correctly - reporting a bird flu outbreak. Full details are not clear, but Reuters says:

"The defendant used measures such as fabricating facts and hiding truth to swindle public and personal property ... so he should be punished for two crimes," Xinhua quoted the prosecution as saying.

Chinese media reported last month that China was considering fines for media outlets that report emergencies, such as riots, natural disasters and outbreaks of disease such as SARS or bird flu, without authorization.

China has a long history of covering up emergency incidents, and news blackout are regularly imposed by sensitive propaganda officials nervous about the effects of news reports on the image of the ruling party.

July 12th, 2006


China - More H5N1
A new wave of bird flu has hit China, as experts grapple with reports that a man died of the virus in 2003, two years earlier than any human infections had officially been reported.
July 3rd, 2006


Chinese Puzzle
News-Medical.Net delves into the mystery of that letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from eight Chinese scientists:

Had that information been made available at the time, countries in the region may have been able to respond when the virus appeared within their borders and lives may have been saved.

China only began reporting cases in November 2005, and has only admitted to 19 H5N1 cases with 12 deaths.

Officials say lives certainly would have been saved in Vietnam and Thailand and the incident has all manner of implications.

International influenza experts have always suspected China has not always been totally transparent when it comes to such cases and has thought there were hidden or missed human cases of H5N1, but none expected those suspicions to be confirmed in one of the world's most respected medical journals.

June 27th, 2006


More Bird Flu Confusion from China
The current bird flu outbreak is generally thought to date from December 2003 and early 2004, when a wave of infections hit a number of countries in Asia. Now comes news - or does it? - that a man in China died of bird flu in November 2003.

The "news" comes in the form of a letter from eight Chinese scientists to the New England Journal of Medicine.

But after writing the letter, the scientists apparently asked that it be withdrawn. However, the journal's deadline had already passed, and this was not possible.

Previously, it was believed that China's first bird flu case was in 2005.

What's going on?
June 23rd, 2006


Mystery Chinese Bird Flu Case Worries Hong Kong
Hong Kong authorities are concerned about a bird flu case in Shenzhen, and are considering a ban on poultry imports from mainland China.

A 31-year-old man was suspected of having contracted the deadly H5N1 virus in Shenzhen, which is located right across the border from Hong Kong.

'We are very concerned about this bird flu case in Shenzhen (as the patient) didn't make any contacts with poultry and birds,' [Health Secretary York] Chow said.

'(This) makes us think there is a possibility that there might be poultry which might not have clear flu symptoms but can spread virus to humans. That's what we are most worried about,' he said.
June 15th, 2006


China (Again) Denies Bird Flu Under-Reporting

China is once more being forced to defend its bird flu count, following new reports that it is seriously under-reporting the number of cases of human infection. Given China’s record, this is a story that is going to run and run. I’ve written about this a number of times before, here – just keep scrolling down.

May 1st, 2006


More Cover-Ups in China

Britain’s Sunday Times – in an article published online by The Australian – says “Chinese state secrecy and academic squabbles” are denying important research material to scientists working to develop a bird flu vaccine.


According to Julie Hall, who heads the World Health Organisation's bird flu team in China, the [Agriculture] ministry has only now changed its policy after international pressure. Dr Hall confirmed the WHO had received no live virus material from the Chinese since 2004, when five samples were handed over.


….Local officials are still covering up episodes of bird flu in southern China, where it has become endemic. The latest outbreak has claimed 10 lives.

March 13th, 2006


This Sounds Bad

A Chinese research team has found that up to one per cent of apparently healthy chickens, ducks and geese at markets in Southern China are infected with H5N1. The implications are enormous.

March 11th, 2006


Bird Flu Threat to Beijing Olympics?

Last week came reports that bird flu in Germany could endanger this year’s soccer World Cup. Now a commentator is suggesting that the 2008 Beijing Olympics are in similar peril.

March 9th, 2006


Another Chinese Death

The World Health Organization has confirmed a further bird flu death in China, a 41-year-old woman from Fujian province. It is China’s seventh confirmed case, and third fatality. Somewhat ominously, WHO reports:

Agricultural authorities so far have not been able to confirm the presence of the H5 virus subtype in poultry in the vicinity of the patient’s residence or place of work. Investigators have not been able to confirm any direct contact between the patient and poultry prior to the onset of illness. The investigation, however, is continuing and answers to these and other questions are still being sought.

December 31st, 2005


Super-Tamiflu Developed in China

Forbes is reporting a breakthrough in China, with scientists there apparently developing a new, super-Tamiflu. It is a drug that is said to be superior to Tamiflu in treating humans with bird flu, yet costs one-third the price.


According to the report:


The Chinese drug was developed by a research group at the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, which could not immediately be reached for comment.

'We have completed clinical experiments, and find it is more effective on humans than Tamiflu,' the newspaper [China Daily] quoted Li Song, a leading scientist in the academy's research group, as saying.

No details were given on whether any clinical tests had been conducted on the drug and whether it had been approved for production or sale.

December 28th, 2005


Is China Concealing Bird Flu Deaths?

Yes, says another prominent expert, Guan Yi of the University of Hong Kong. "Quite honestly, some provinces have the virus and they still haven't announced any outbreak. I can show direct evidence, even though China is still trying very hard to block my research," he told the Globe and Mail newspaper.


The World Health Organization continues to support the Chinese authorities, who deny any cover-up.

December 10th, 2005


Bird Flu Round-Up

China – a 10-year-old girl has reportedly tested positive for the H5N1 virus. It would be only the country’s fourth official case of human infection.

December 7th, 2005


China – "Still Not Open"

The New York Times wonders if China is concealing bird flu deaths, just as it did during the SARS outbreak in 2003.


Scientists have long been mystified by the low number of cases in humans reported in China, which has such a severe bird flu problem that it recently announced plans to vaccinate 14.2 billion chickens, geese and ducks. Far smaller countries, with less severe bird flu outbreaks, have reported many more human cases.


The newspaper quotes a WHO official as stating that the organization did not believe that China was deliberately trying to mislead, but, rather “systems to diagnose a virus-like bird ailment were often poorly developed and underfinanced in the rural areas with the most cases.”


Nevertheless, the article goes on to state:


In a recent editorial, Hu Shuli, the outspoken editor of “Caijing,” China's most prestigious investigative magazine, complained that local officials had stymied her journalists' attempts to investigate the death, possibly from bird flu, of a 12-year-old girl in Hunan.


"The situation has improved immensely over what we witnessed in the early days of the SARS epidemic in 2003, when the question of the virus's very existence was deemed a state secret," she said. "But if we want to further improve the situation, we must also acknowledge that officials still are not open and efficient enough in disclosing virus information to the public."


Scientists studying the international spread of bird flu have complained that China has not shared information about its experiences with the disease, although they say the situation has improved lately.


Still, while Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand have provided international specialists with samples of viruses from each bird flu outbreak, China has not shared such material.

December 3rd, 2005


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....continue reading Have 300 Chinese Really Died of Bird Flu?

November 27th 2005


Scary News from China – 300 Dead

This doesn’t sound good. A Japanese scientist has told a “stunned meeting” of virologists in Germany that 300 Chinese have died of H5N1 bird flu, including seven cases of human-to-human transmission. He said Chinese colleagues, who disclosed the figures to him, had been threatened with arrest if they publicly revealed the extent of the problem.


Masato Tashiro, head of virology at Tokyo’s National Institute of Infectious Disease – a WHO-collaborating centre for bird flu – told the meeting of virologists in Marburg, Germany, on 19 November that “we have been systematically deceived”. His comments were reported in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung….Tashiro could not be reached for comment today. The newspaper reported that he said the numbers came from sources he trusted, while he was in Hunan province for the WHO, working with Chinese investigators on the recent H5N1 outbreak there.


He said five Chinese medical personnel had been arrested for trying to report these cases, according to the paper. China enforced severe restrictions on the investigation and reporting of suspected cases of bird flu in June 2005….Virologists consider the relative absence of human cases of bird flu in China unusual, given its widespread infection in birds. China has reported poultry outbreaks in twenty counties all across the country since mid-October, the latest being on Thursday.


….There are other unconfirmed reports of human cases in China. Boxun News, an independent Chinese website, reported this week that 77 workers brought in to help control rampant H5N1 outbreaks in poultry in Liaoning province in November have died of the virus, listing 14 names. Boxun reported the extent of the outbreak in wild birds at Qinghai Lake in central China in May, and alleged then that 120 people had been put in stringent hospital isolation in a nearby town, possibly with bird flu.

November 25th 2005


Now China

China has confirmed its first cases of bird flu, with three victims, two of whom have died. According to the New York Times:


China's Health Ministry said this evening that bird flu had been confirmed in a 9-year-old boy and his 12-year-old sister in central China's Hunan Province and in a 36-year-old woman in Anhui Province in east-central China. The boy has recovered and was released from the hospital last weekend; the girl and the woman died.


In confirming all three cases as infections with the H5N1 bird flu virus, the Chinese authorities went even further than the W.H.O. was willing to go. The W.H.O. agreed late today that the boy and the woman, a teacher, had been infected with bird flu. But the sister's body was cremated before her case became the subject of international medical attention, and the W.H.O. concluded that samples drawn before she died were not adequate for determining whether she had bird flu.

November 17th, 2005


Vaccinations in China, Mutations in Vietnam

China plans to vaccinate all five billion of the country’s poultry against H5N1 bird flu. The announcement comes after a series of flu outbreaks in birds.


According to the New Scientist:


The move will slow the spread of the virus and reduce human exposure to it, but will also make any remaining virus hard to detect….Officials have blamed outbreaks in Liaoning, where a woman is suspected of contracting the disease, on the use of faulty or fake vaccines on poultry. But it is known that the virus can persist and spread even in properly vaccinated birds unless stringent precautions are taken.


The journal also confirms alarming news from Vietnam:


H5N1 has already been mutating rapidly in Vietnam, where few chickens are vaccinated. Cao Bao Van, head of the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, told the Vietnamese press this week that 24 isolates of H5N1 from poultry and humans, taken between December 2003 and March 2005, show “significant variation”.


Cao was also quoted as saying a mutation had been observed in the PB2 gene of a virus isolated from a human case in March, which “allows more effective breeding of the virus in mammals”. PB2 codes for part of the polymerase enzyme which replicates the virus.


That mutation, at amino acid number 627 of the protein, changes the glutamic acid of bird flu to the lysine typical of human flu. The change allows the virus to replicate in the human respiratory tract, which is cooler than the bird guts where bird flu normally replicates.


The same mutation has been turning up since 2004 in several isolates of H5N1 from humans and other mammals in East Asia and shows the virus is adapting to mammals while infecting them. It was also a feature of the 1918 pandemic virus, which was a bird flu virus that adapted to humans.

November 16th, 2005


Today’s News Is Not Good

Item 1 – The Japanese health ministry has revealed that two teenage boys who took Tamiflu subsequently exhibited abnormal behavior that led to their deaths. A 17-year-old boy took Tamiflu, then left home in his pajamas and jumped in front of a truck. A 14-year-old boy fell from the ninth floor of his apartment building after taking the drug.


In Japan the drug carries a warning of possible impaired consciousness, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and other psychological and neurological symptoms. The ministry is considering issuing a fresh warning….The Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Agency said there were 64 cases of psychological disorders linked to the drug between fiscal 2000 and 2004.


Item 2 - The Chinese government says an eighth outbreak of bird flu within a month is creating a "very serious situation" because the virus seems to be spreading.


Item 3 - Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City Pasteur Institute has found that the bird flu virus strain H5N1 in the country has mutated to make it more dangerous.

November 13th, 2005


Pigs Not Infected

The Hunan provincial government has denied reports – for example, here and here – that local pigs have been infected with bird flu.

November 13th, 2005


The Latest

China and Croatia have both confirmed new H5N1 outbreaks, while India investigates. The BBC reports: “Authorities on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion say three tourists who returned from a trip to Thailand may have contracted bird flu.” The Vietnam News Agency reports that three Vietnamese pharmaceutical companies are to begin producing Tamiflu.

October 27th, 2005


Rapid Response in China and the US

The US Food and Drug Administration has formed a Rapid Response Team to ensure that anti-viral drugs are available in the event of a flu pandemic. The Team will be able to fast-track a complete new drug application in six to eight weeks.


The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has announced a new rapid response policy for reporting cases of bird flu – they must be reported to provincial authorities within two hours; and, after confirmation, the provincial veterinary bureau must report to the ministry within an hour.

October 25th, 2005


Russia, Romania and China

Russia has confirmed an outbreak of H5N1 flu at a far, south of Moscow. Romania has announced its second bird flu outbreak. China has also confirmed a new H5N1 outbreak.

October 20th, 2005