Philip Pan on China’s defense of its bird flu antiviral policy

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 antibioticviral 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.

Via CDT.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

If China does not mention the Bird Flu, you say “Look! China is hiding a crisis again! How undemocratic!”

If China says “We have very few cases of Bird Flu.” You say “Hah! They must be lying! They always lie!!!”

If China says “There are a lot of cases of Bird Flu, and we are very concerned.” You say “Look! Finally the Chinese government cannot hide it anymore! What were they doing earlier? Shame on them!”

Even if China says “We think there are severe cases of under-reporting of bird-flu, and we urge the international community to examine us more closely”. You say “I think this is some ploy by the Chinese gov’t, I think they are trying to divert attention from something more serious!”

In fact, I cannot envision a scenario where you’d say “Good for the Chinese gov’t, finally they are doing something right.” In fact, have you EVER said something like that? If you have, please give me a link to it. Thanks.

October 30, 2005 @ 9:38 am | Comment

HongXing you are insufferably retarded. This is not about your stupid inferiority complex, it is about your mum dying from the flu.

Did you even consider what richard said? Why have all the countries around china reported bird flu cases but china has not? What are the reasons for china’s superior bird flu managment?

October 30, 2005 @ 2:49 pm | Comment

richard, your comment has some problem.

anti-biotic and anti-viral are 2 completely different things

anti-biotics are very effective in treating a lot of baterial infections. it is true that there is abuse in chinese hospitals. however, this has NOTHING to do with bird flu, because flu is caused by virus, not bateria.

anti-viral drugs are very expensive and china does not have cheap access to them yet.
meanwhile, antiviral are very ineffective today, even tamiflu is not very reliable. it is only relatively useful.
that is why we cannot cure flu or AIDS today.

china report zero DOES NOT EQUAL TO china has zero. we all know that.
not sure what your point is.

these are very technocal stuff. your paraphrasing distorted philip pan’s original words. better just quote and let readers read the originals.

October 30, 2005 @ 3:00 pm | Comment

While we’re on the subject of antibiotics/antivirals, I believe the Chinese government’s claim that the recent death of a girl in Anhui from pneumonia is misleading. As we have seen in the 1918 influenza epidemic, many of the victime died of pneumonia, ie a bacterial complication of a viral disease. So to say the girl died of pneumonia does not rule out that she had H5N1 influenza. The good news is that unlike 1918 we now have good antibiotics aginst pneumonia [something overlooked by those rushing to buy Tamiflu].

October 30, 2005 @ 4:05 pm | Comment

Sun Bin, my one mistake was referring to amantadine as an “antibiotic” when I should have simply said “drug” or “antiviral.” Mea culpa! Terrible. Sorry about that. Otherwise, my summary is accurate, just take out the word antibiotic. Aside from that late-night error what do you see as distortion? Pan is saying use of amantadine in China is alleged to help build up immunity to tamiflu. No?

HongXing, thanks for your wisdom. Great comment.

October 30, 2005 @ 4:32 pm | Comment


Further to Hongxing’s point: All I EVER see you posting here are praises of the US government.

Oh, look, there’s another one. Just a few posts down, you put up a photo of George Bush. But do you EVER post similar photos of CHINESE leaders? No.

Why don’t you post a similar photo of Hu Jintao? (If you can find one.)
Then you’ll be treating China and America equally.

October 30, 2005 @ 4:57 pm | Comment

1. because i know there is abuse of antibiotic in hospitals (to human). it is easy to connect this with abuse in antiviral in chicken. in reality, there are no relation between these 2.

2. no, exposure to amantadine does not mean resistance to tamiflu.
the downside is, this cheaper alternative is no longer effective. we MAY need to use tamiflu (much more expensive) as first line cure in future.

since we only have 3-4 weapons against virus (amatadine, tamiflu and a couple others). losing amantadine means we lose one of the precious 3 weapons.
(caveat, none of these are really effective though. they are not good weapons. we just have not found the equivalence of penicillin for virus yet)

check wiki entry for amantadine. i think they explained it a bit there.

October 30, 2005 @ 5:00 pm | Comment

this is from wiki:

“If amantadine resistant strains of the virus spread, the drug of choice in an avian flu outbreak will likely be restricted to one of the scarcer and costlier oseltamivir or zanamivir, which work by a different mechanism and are less likely to trigger resistance.”

oseltamivir is tamiflu.

October 30, 2005 @ 5:04 pm | Comment

this is Jia’s side of the story.

based on Jia (reading critically) and WaPo’s. I think certain facts are clear

1. Jia said Agr Ministry did not advise using amantadine. and that vaccine is a much cheaper option (one shot for 6 months) in China compared to amantadine.
2. he said SE Asia use more amantadina vs vaccine, because vaccine is more expensive there.

this may be easy to verify, just check the relative prices between the 2 option in China and that in SE Asia.

Jia also said some farmer have used amantadine, but the scale is small.

i think this is true, when some cases were observed already in the farms (vaccine only good as prevention).

there is a related debate but not discussed by Jia or Wapo:

this “resistance” issue can be debated among immunologist.
if by sacrificing one drug, you buy time by delaying wide-spreading of the virus for a few years (note, the first case of H5N1 surfaced in 1997), that could give the opportunity for human being to develop the antibody and prevent a pandemic.
then maybe it is a good idea to apply one of the drugs to fowls.

we do not have an clear understanding on this approach yet.

October 30, 2005 @ 5:34 pm | Comment

“insufferably retarded” is going to be my new insult phrase. Thanks, bezz 😀

October 30, 2005 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

i am appalled at some of the comments on here. it is totally typical misdirection. we have a big problem with bird flu, but, hey look at my other hand while you choke to death on your own phlegm. one ccp stooge plays victim, while the other argues about the meaning of a single word…guess they would rather wallow in their own ignorance, while the rest of us actually discuss the problem at hand. pathetic.

October 31, 2005 @ 1:02 am | Comment

Just one hint for those of you how don’t understand why some people feel a little queasy when it comes to the reaction of Chinese officials to dangerous deseas:

“A paper published in July in the journal Nature detailed the genomics of H5N1 isolated in samples taken in 2005 from Qinghai and Guangdong as well as Hunan and Yunnan.

Dr Guan Yi, a University of Hong Kong scientist, told the media that, soon after the Nature paper was published, the mainland authorities accused him of stealing state secrets.”

It’s just that the Chinese government one time acted irresponsible (SARS) and since then acted at least very hobnailed in many cases. So how to have concience in them?
I think, that’s something only for true belivers.

October 31, 2005 @ 2:33 am | Comment

Strategy to fight virus (H5N1 avian flu)

Therefore, buying time is very important in our war against virus. Effective suppression and treatment of chicken is one of the measure we can adopt to buy time.

October 31, 2005 @ 4:45 pm | Comment

This of off topic, but I note the reference in the base article to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Only fair in these times that this hospital was the dream and legacy of an Arab-American, comedian Danny Thomas.

November 1, 2005 @ 3:16 am | Comment

Ooops! “Only fair to note in these times”.. Brain fart on my part. Sorry.

November 1, 2005 @ 3:18 am | Comment

A foreign journalist I spoke to on Friday has been speaking to the WHO, and she said that the representations of the WHO’s position in coverage has been mild. In print it looks like mild skepticism of China’s lack of human infections from bird flu. In private they seem to be saying that the goddamn numbers simply don’t add up. This should surprise no one, but it doesn’t make me think we’re on the verge of a new era of transparency.

Re the girl in Anhui, the first denials that it was bird flu were apparently made before there had been sufficient time for tests to be conducted and results returned. But, then, given that official economic numbers are often reported before the close of quarters, that seems like par for the course.

November 1, 2005 @ 3:55 am | Comment

the discussion promised on why it could be good to treat the birds, and vaccinate the birds.

yes, the numbers in China are suspicious. one of the reason is impact on local economic figures, since GDP is the key performance metrics for the local official.
they need to improve that system now.

November 1, 2005 @ 5:31 pm | Comment

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