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WHO Asks China for Information on First Bird Flu Case
posted by admin on 22/06/06

June 22 (Bloomberg)

The World Health Organization is asking China's Ministry of Health for information about a reported case of bird flu two years before the country announced its first human infection from the lethal virus.

The case occurred in a 24-year-old man in November 2003, according to a letter in yesterday's New England Journal of Medicine written by eight Chinese scientists. The first human case reported to the WHO during the current avian flu outbreak occurred in Vietnam in December 2003 and China reported its initial case to the WHO in November 2005.

``It's a very important issue that needs to be clarified urgently,'' Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman, said today in Beijing. ``It raises questions as to how many other cases may not have been found at the time or may have been found retrospectively in testing.''

China was criticized by the United Nations health agency for its slow response to a 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. World health authorities are tracking cases of the H5N1 avian flu strain, which has infected at least 228 people in 10 countries since late 2003, killing 130 of them, the WHO said on June 20.

International health agencies are trying to work more closely with China to detect and prevent infectious diseases faster, particularly in the densely populated southern region. Human H5N1 cases provide opportunity for the virus to mutate into a pandemic form that may kill millions of people.

The H5N1 virus, which has spread in birds across Asia, Europe and Africa this year, was first detected in a farmed goose a decade ago in Guangdong, where SARS may have first jumped to humans in 2002.

Lung Disease

SARS infected more than 8,000 people between 2002 and 2003, killing 774. The lung virus was originally suspected by doctors as the cause of disease in the 24-year-old man. The letter written by the Chinese scientists, didn't say when samples from the man were analyzed.

The authors of the letter asked editors at the New England Journal to allow them to withdraw it yesterday. Since the report was already printed in this week's issue, a withdrawal wasn't possible. The editors are still trying to uncover the problem and a future correction or retraction is possible, said Karen Pederson, a spokeswoman for the journal.

Qing-Yu Zhu, from the State Key Laboratory of Pathogens and Biosecurity in Beijing, was the first author on the letter. The work was funded by grants from the National Task Force of China and the 973 High-Tech Projects Plan.

Hungary, Romania

Almost all human H5N1 cases have been linked to close contact with sick or dead birds, such as children playing with them or adults butchering them or plucking feathers, according to the WHO. Thorough cooking of meat and eggs kills the virus.

In Hungary, scientists are examining samples from fowl in the community of Kulsogalambos to determine whether H5N1 has broken out there, Agriculture Ministry spokesman Andras Dekany said yesterday. Earlier this month, 500,000 poultry were culled in the southern county of Bacs-Kiskun to control the disease.

In neighboring Romania, 80 H5N1 outbreaks have occurred in poultry this month, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.

Romania first reported H5N1 in domestic poultry in October last year. An initial outbreak was reported in neighboring Ukraine two months later. Hungary's first outbreak was reported in February.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Jason Gale in Singapore at j.gale@bloomberg.net;
John Lauerman in Boston at jlauerman@bloomberg.net

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