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China Concedes First Human H5N1 Bird Flu Cases
Cindy Drukier & Anna Yang

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China has admitted for the first time to human cases of the avian flu virus that is endemic in fowl in many regions of the country. The revelation by China’s Health Ministry came two days after World Health Organization (WHO) officials arrived in Hunan Province to inspect suspected human cases of the bird flu, on November 14th. Three cases were reported including two in Hunan Province and one in Anhui Province.

In Hunan, nine-year-old boy He Junyao, whose sister He Yin died on October 17th, tested positive for H5N1, the virus many experts are worried could mutate into a deadly human pandemic. Chinese authorities had previously said that the boy tested negative for H5N1.

"During the early stage, antibodies were not found, but now the boy is positive to antibody tests," Qi Xiaoqiu, director of the Ministry of Health's Department of Disease Control, was reported as saying by Chinese state-run media.

Chinese health officials said He Yin had tested negative for bird flu, but the WHO could not obtain samples for independent testing since her body was cremated the same day she died.

China’s National Quality Inspection Bureau issued an urgent notice at 10 p.m. local time Wednesday that all border crossings must enhance bird flu inspection and prevention efforts effective immediately. The same night, Hong Kong authorities announced that it would renew its effort to measure body temperature of all tourists entering the territory within the next 48 hours.

In the last month, China has revealed that there are currently 11 avian outbreaks of H5N1 in seven Chinese provinces.

Chicken farmers and local residents of Yingkou City, Liaoning Province in Northeast China told The Epoch Times that upwards of a hundred thousand chickens have died, but that the government refuses to admit the possibility that it’s the bird flu.

Unofficial reports such as these don’t bode well for the newly minted international strategy to contain and combat bird flu. At the United Nations-sponsored conference in Geneva November 7-9, global experts and senior policy makers hammered out an international strategy to try to contain the bird flu and lessen the impact of a global human pandemic. The plan includes systems to swiftly recognize and eliminate disease outbreaks at their source, and integrated country plans to prepare for and responds to any threat of a human pandemic. Transparency and open communications were seen as absolutely vital to mitigating a worst case scenario.

“I think the first message is transparency is key to actually taking action. But the second broader message is to get the information on what is happening in particular areas to the WHO, to the FAO [Food and Food and Agriculture Organization], to make sure it is analyzed in a way that we can understand what’s happening more broadly with the movements of the disease,” said M. James Adam, World Bank Vice President and head of the Bank’s avian flu task force.

A health worker disinfects a tricycle at a disinfection station during an anti-bird flu rapid reaction drill in Shaanxi Province, north China, 11-17-05. (China Photos/Getty Images)“I think the most important is to try and deal with the source of the problems quickly,” said Geer van der Linden, Asian Development Bank Vice President.

“There are six countries where the avian flu is endemic. In other countries there are just sporadic outbreaks but no transmission yet. But in six countries it is endemic and we need to focus on those counties, if we can contain it there, then we have a good chance to avoid that this becomes a world wide problem,” van der Linden said.

The day before China announced the human cases of bird flu, the Agriculture Ministry also declared that it plans to inoculate all 5.2 billion chickens, geese, and ducks in the country against the bird flu, which would make it the world’s largest ever undertaking of this kind. No timetable was given.

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