Pan’s a great China hand and one needn’t be a Rhodes scholar to detect the underlying cynisim and skepticism of his new article on how China is responding to critics who claim China is helping to make birds resistant to anti-flu drug.
The Chinese government said Friday that very few samples of bird flu virus collected here over the past two years showed resistance to a key influenza drug, contradicting complaints by international researchers that Chinese veterinary practices had rendered the drug useless if the virus were to spread to people.
Jia Youling, a senior Agriculture Ministry official who serves as the country’s chief veterinary officer, acknowledged that Chinese farmers have used the drug, amantadine, which is meant for people, on chickens and other poultry. But he said the practice was banned last year and denied that it had resulted in the bird flu virus developing a resistance to the drug….
“Some people have said that because China once used amantadine, disastrous effects have now been brought about on the global prevention of avian flu,” he said at a government news conference. “However, I think that statement is quite unfair.”
Jia suggested instead that veterinary practices in Southeast Asia were to blame for strains of bird flu becoming resistant to the drug.
The Chinese government did not immediately provide data on the number of cases tested and the number that showed resistance.
Jia’s assertions contradict international researchers, including experts at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, one of the premier private influenza research institutions in the world. Experts there reported last month that bird flu strains in East Asia, particularly in China, had become more resistant to amantadine during recent years. They also said the mutations in China did not appear to be random, adding they could be the result of treating chickens with the drug to prevent bird flu.
Animal health experts have also said the use of amantadine to treat livestock was not common in Southeast Asia because of the drug’s limited availability and the high cost of importing it to countries there.
Since January 2004, more than 60 people have died of bird flu in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. And the virus has spread to Europe’s eastern border. China reported three new outbreaks in poultry in the past week, but it has not reported any infections in people.
Shorter Philip Pan: Serious research shows China’s use of the anti
bioticviral is creating a very risky situation. And it’s simply amazing that China’s next-door neighbors are experiencing bird flu infection in humans while China reports zero cases. Viruses tend to be oblivious of national borders, so something here is fishy.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.