300 human bird flu fatalities in China?

The Japanese scientist who made the claim in New Scientist clarifies his earlier statement.

In my presentation at the meeting in Marburg, I stated that WHO’s official numbers of H5N1 human cases are only based on laboratory confirmed cases. It should be therefore an iceberg phenomenon. Due to poorly organized surveillance and information sharing systems in many affected countries including China, it is reasonable to consider that more cases have occurred actually. We have heard many ‘rumors’or unauthorized information which we cannot confirm. In this context, I talked about a few examples of non-authorized information and rumors about Asian countries which I received through private channels. I clarified that I do not know the original sources and I cannot confirm whether they are true, how these numbers were derived and what laboratory tests and epidemiological investigation were done.

When you think about it, and consider the number of deaths in surrounding countries, 300 doesn’t seem all that outlandish. But as the doctor says, we just don’t know because information channels in China, despite all the SARS reforms, still suck.

Via CDT.

The Discussion: 14 Comments

Just Tip of Iceburg in Bird Flu Outbreak??

According to this article on the NewScientist.com web site dated November 25, 2005 written by Debora MacKenzie entitled “Official Chinese bird flu deaths could be ‘tip of iceberg’,â€? a respected Japanese scientist, who works with the World Health Organ

November 25, 2005 @ 9:40 pm | Comment


November 25, 2005 @ 9:50 pm | Comment

That’s not really a fair assessment. The US has one of the most developed information systems, and yet Iraq torture cases are only just beginning to emerge.

November 25, 2005 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

The torture is America’s shame and a true scandal. But it in no way compares to a government keeping secret a disaster that threatens the lives of millions of ts own citizens. If the US government ever did any such thing, there would be a revolution. It would be an act of betrayal.

November 25, 2005 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

You know, I think there are those in the US government (in the current administration) who would certainly keep such large-scale secrets if they could. And the torture scandal goes beyond scandalous. It’s absolutely shameful, disgusting and heinous, as it violates fundamental principles on which the US was founded and by which the US has been governed throughout our history.

But this is the point of checks and balances. We have an at times muzzled, compromised and lazy press, but eventually, the truth comes out. And we have some degree of political competition – not the full range of choices one would like to have, perhaps – but at least there are countervailing powers to prevent or expose such massive abuses.

What’s heartening in this horrible Harbin disaster is that elements of China’s media are really challenging the authorities and reporting the truth. They are heroes and should be celebrated, especially by China’s citizens.

November 25, 2005 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

I agree that there are those in the current administration who would keep just about anything secret if they thought it would embarrass them. But when it comes to a disaster like bird flu or poisoned drinking water, they simply couldn’t do it – the political cost would be too huge because, for all America’s faults, we still get to elect our leaders. And, unlike in China, the perpetrators would go to jail. As you say, checks and balances make a big difference.

I agree about the courage of many Chinese media and see it as a positive sign. Let’s see how Hu Jintao celebrates them.

November 25, 2005 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

That’s exactly what I mean. If they could keep it a secret, they would. A system of checks and balances and a free(ish) press protects against our leaders’ own worst impulses.

November 26, 2005 @ 12:00 am | Comment

Actually i don’t think that this news is necessary for our discussion. because this “respected scientist” is from Japan and he quoted one msg even he could not confirm. in other words, this maybe one RUMOR. so why we chinese should take it seriously?
I admit that china goverment has a habit to conceal any disgraceful information. but this is not the reason for we should believe in one rumor.

November 26, 2005 @ 1:58 am | Comment

The assuption that China must have had more cases of bird flu is quite appeling on a superficial level. But from what I read yesterday in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit (only German) it is alo thinkable that there aren’t that many cases. Klaus Stöhr, the coordinator of the WHO influenza program said that in the last two years China has had a program of vaccinating billions of birds. One indicator that this program was effective is that though threre were a lot of cases of bird flu in different provinces they were only limmited to a vew farms and didn’t spread to otheres in the special province. He also said that vaccinating doesn’t mean that the birds are 100% immune to the virus but that they have a better abillity to fight the virus resulting in a lower ammount of viruses per bird. To jump from bird to human it needs a big amount of viruses in one bird though. So that could be the explanmation why there are so vew cases in China

November 26, 2005 @ 4:13 am | Comment

Thanks Shulan, As I said, I don;t know, and I gather no one else does. The only thing I can say definitively is that their information pipeline is a mess.

November 26, 2005 @ 4:16 am | Comment

As I said on the thanksgiving thread, I think it’s inconceivable that there have only been three cases. I don’t know why I didn’t question it before – but breakouts of viruses are pretty statistical, and China seems to be out of 2 standard deviations, considering their population density and proximity to the other outbreak countries. I think we’re probably looking at at least 10 times more the number dead, maybe not as high as 300 but 3 is too low.

The next question is whether or not it’s a cover-up. It might not be, honestly. China’s too big, and experts aren’t everywhere. People might just be dying in villages and no one hears about it.

November 26, 2005 @ 4:36 am | Comment

Stöhr also said it’s thinkable that there were unreported cases in China. But he said that is more likeky to the overall situation in China were it’s hard to reach villages for the doctors than a coverup by the authorities.

November 26, 2005 @ 5:15 am | Comment

300 cases or 3000 cases its really is just a number. The Communist govern might try to hide the truth figure but then i doubt they know the true number of cases. Afterall a large number of people in the country cannot afford to pay for healthcare, so those unlucky ones who caught the avian flu and died without seeing a doctor would most likely not be investigated and reported to the authority.

November 26, 2005 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

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