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China Admits Earlier Bird-Flu Case Soldier Died of H5N1 In December 2003; Call for Transparency
posted by admin on 09/08/06
A WHO spokesman said the agency was urging Beijing
A WALL STREET JOURNAL NEWS ROUNDUP
August 9, 2006
BEIJING -- China confirmed that the country's first human case of the H5N1 bird-flu virus was in late 2003, two years earlier than originally reported, prompting the World Health Organization to call for greater transparency.
The case had spurred questions about whether there might have been other human H5N1 infections in China prior to what had been its first reported human case, near the end of 2005.
The WHO said the 24-year-old soldier, who was based in Beijing and initially thought to have severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, was "the first confirmed case in the [world's] present outbreak," having preceded a case in Vietnam.
A WHO spokesman said the agency was urging Beijing to re-examine other pneumonia cases of unknown origin. But a Health Ministry spokesman said the 2003 case wasn't evidence of a bird-flu outbreak in China at that time, and he said there were no plans to review other cases.
Eight Chinese researchers published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine in June saying a soldier, who was admitted to hospital in November 2003 for respiratory distress and pneumonia and later died, had been infected with H5N1. His virus samples genetically resembled H5N1 viruses taken from Chinese chickens in various provinces in 2004, the eight experts said.
China's Health Ministry confirmed the case yesterday by "parallel laboratory tests" carried out in cooperation with the WHO, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"The source of his H5N1 infection remains uncertain, particularly as no poultry outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza have been reported in Beijing," the WHO said. It added that the soldier had died on Dec. 3, 2003.
Chinese officials have told the WHO that they aren't doing any further "retrospective testing" on stored samples from suspect cases, said Dick Thompson, a WHO spokesman in Geneva.
The WHO's spokesman in Beijing, Roy Wadia, said the Health Ministry had been unaware of the case until the researchers' letter was published.
"It speaks about the need for really close collaboration and transparent communication between various players within the government structure," he said.
The scientists' findings were one of the clearest indications yet that the virus might have been brewing for much longer in the vast country than what had been reported.
An Indonesian teenager died of bird flu yesterday, local testing indicated, the second fatality in as many days. If confirmed, the latest death lifts the country's human deaths from H5N1 to 44.
The Health Ministry said a 16-year-old girl died at the regional Sari Asih hospital in Tangerang. She was admitted Aug. 4, but died before she could be transferred to Jakarta for specialist treatment, said Nyoman Kandun of the Office of Communicable Disease Control.
A day earlier, a boy of the same age died of the H5N1 strain of the virus on the other side of the city, becoming the 43rd victim in just over a year and making Indonesia the world's worst-hit nation.
Typically reliable tests performed at a local laboratory will be verified by secondary analysis in the U.S., the Health Ministry said.
Vietnam is the second worst hit at 42 deaths, but it hasn't recorded any deaths this year.
The H5N1 virus has killed at least 135 people world-wide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003, according to the WHO. That figure doesn't include the latest deaths in Indonesia.
Thailand's government declared 29 provinces bird-flu emergency zones, a move that will allow it to more easily make payments to farmers whose birds are slaughtered.
The move, approved at yesterday's weekly cabinet meeting, came in the wake of several new outbreaks of the H5N1 virus among poultry and two human fatalities in Thailand.
Provincial governors and agriculture, livestock and health volunteers will go to farms and households in the 29 provinces this week "to look for anyone with respiratory illness, register poultry, spray antibacterial chemicals in the area where poultry are raised and spread information" about bird flu, said government spokesman Suraphong Suebwonglee.
By declaring the provinces disaster zones, the government is allowed to use a special budget to compensate farmers whose birds are slaughtered as a precautionary measure against the disease.
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