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Ciptapangan Visitor
Bird-Flu Efforts Are Criticized
posted by admin on 02/11/06

Scientific research released earlier this week said that the new strain -- called H5N1 Fujian-like -- had spread widely over the past year

November 2, 2006

BEIJING -- The World Health Organization criticized China's Agriculture Ministry for not sharing samples of a newly discovered strain of bird flu, complicating the health agency's efforts to track the virus's spread.

Scientific research released earlier this week said that the new strain -- called H5N1 Fujian-like -- had spread widely over the past year, being found in almost all poultry outbreaks and some human cases in China and now becoming prevalent in Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

Despite that prevalence, the Agriculture Ministry hasn't 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," Dr. Hall said in a telephone interview yesterday. "Unless the ministry tells us what's going on and shares viruses on a regular basis, we will be doing diagnostics on strains that are old."

While new strains of viruses emerge regularly, health experts need to know when one becomes dominant in order to develop methods to detect and fight the disease, Dr. Hall said.

The ministry's reluctance has been a source of aggravation at the WHO. International health experts have repeatedly complained about Chinese foot-dragging in cooperating on investigating emerging diseases such as bird flu and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

Telephones at the Agriculture Ministry weren't answered yesterday, and it didn't immediately respond to faxed questions.

Some countries are slow to share genetic information or samples of viruses because they fear they will be pushed aside in the global race to produce a lucrative vaccine.

"This is a new disease. Nobody knows how to tackle it, nobody in the world has all the answers," Dr. Hall said. "But if they share...then we will all gain from that."

She said the ministry hasn't shared bird-flu virus samples from poultry since 2004 -- a key step in developing diagnostic tools and vaccines.

The study by Chinese and American scientists released this week found that one out of every 30 geese and one out of every 30 ducks in live markets tested positive for H5N1 in six southern Chinese provinces during yearlong surveillance, which began in June 2005.

In that same period, however, the ministry reported only three outbreaks in those same provinces, Dr. Hall said.

The study was conducted in Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan and Hunan, densely populated provinces where people live in close proximity to ducks, pigs and other farm animals, making the area a common breeding ground for flu viruses.

Out of 108 virus samples taken from infected poultry between April and June of this year, 103 -- or 95% -- had the Fujian-like strain, according to the results of the study reported in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Copyright © 2006 Associated Press

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