China reports three bird flu cases

It’s good that they seem to be finally telling the truth. But why do they always have to start by lying? [Update: I’ll reserve judgement about whether anyone lied until I understand it better.]

China said Sunday it had asked for outside help to test three possible cases of bird flu in people, while scientists and government representatives prepared for a strategy session in Geneva amid fears of a possible worldwide flu pandemic among humans.

China said it asked the World Health Organization to help determine whether the virus caused the death of a 12-year-old girl and infected her 9-year-old brother and a 36-year-old middle school teacher in Wantang, a village in central Hunan province.

Chinese experts “cannot rule out the possibility of human transmission of H5N1 bird flu” in the cases of the three, who came down with pneumonia last month following a bird flu outbreak among poultry in their village, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The girl’s brother and the teacher recovered. Chinese officials initially said the girl and her brother tested negative for the bird flu virus.

Still no deaths from bird flu in China despite 62 dead in neighboring countries. If only those neigbors could emulate China’s advanced infection containment capabilities.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

The authorities haven’t lied. They are actually doing the responsible thing, and asking for outside help to be 100% sure this wasn’t bird flu. That’s to be encouraged, not denigrated.

November 6, 2005 @ 7:27 pm | Comment

They’re now calling it an outbreak of pneumonia from “unknown causes”

November 6, 2005 @ 7:35 pm | Comment

Really? I thought the article said, “Chinese officials initially said the girl and her brother tested negative for the bird flu virus.” It doesn’t say that the government initially reported they were unsure of the test results. No, instead they reported they were tested and they had the results, which showed they tested negative. But now they are saying they tested positive. You can praise this all you want and say they should be “congratulated,” but I see it differently.

There may be more to this story that I don’t know about. But I keep hearing the old voices of 2002-03 in my head:

“Guandong Province is now free of SARS”

“Only a few cases of SARS in Beijing”

November 6, 2005 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

Thanks for that, Gordon. I suppose Simon will find that praiseworthy, as well!

November 6, 2005 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

In this BBC article, a WHO spokesperson says it is “not unusual for someone thought to be infected with a virus such as H5N1 to initially test negative but later to test positive.”

November 6, 2005 @ 8:06 pm | Comment

Thanks for that anonymous! I will amend the post accordingly.

November 6, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

Well, while I don’t condone ruling out bird flu when they are still not certain, I do see progress. They only admitted they had a SARS problem when the disease was well-spread throughout several provinces. At least this time, someone seems to be thinking. Every other day, a new group of experts somewhere in the world declares that a real human-to-human outbreak is inevitable. It seems that someone among those who make the real decisions in China gave those warnings some real thought and decided to act before they were caught in a lie.

Now if only the Chinese would start sharing their bird flu data with the rest of the world instead of holding out to become the first ones to find a cure….well, I can always hope.

November 6, 2005 @ 8:08 pm | Comment

Here are the top headlines on as of now:

1) Healthy Ministry reports three unknown Pneumonia cases of unknown cause, Bird Flu is not ruled out.

2) The Death of a 12 year old girl in Hunan

3) The State Council passes down instructions from Hu Jintao (on fighting Bird Flu)

4) 6 million poultry being killed in Liaoning

5) Beijing halts live poultry markets

6) Guangdong’s schools may close if situation becomes severe

From those headlines, I don’t see any indication of the government trying to “lie” or “hide” anything.

November 6, 2005 @ 8:40 pm | Comment

It sounds like they are doing better. Based on my own personal experience, they almost always try to lie and hide things whenever embarrassing news comes out, just like the Bush administration (think Pat Tillman and Pvt. Jessica Lynch). Then, under pressure, they have to tell the truth, painful as it is for them. I think the media (and blogs) are playing an important role in forcing the Party to tell the truth about things they know they can’t lie about forever.

November 6, 2005 @ 9:18 pm | Comment

I said on this forum a few days ago that I had heard about deaths from avian flu in China, which at that time the government was denying. I also made the point that anyone with medical knowledge knows that a high proportion of people with serious influenza will die of pneumonia complications rather than influenza itself. So the Chinese authorities are being disingenuous when they say they are “not sure” if it is bird flu. In a pandemic situation when there is an outbreak of influenza you would automatically assume that pneumonia in a 12 year old would be due to influenza until proven otherwise. By denying it is avian flu the Chinese are dragging their feet and repeating the mistakes of the SARS debacle. Why has it taken until now (too late) for the Chinese to seek assistance from WHO? Too proud, too concerned about saving face? Yet again they are showing they just can not be trusted when it comes to being open and honest about a serious health problem (SARS, HIV etc).

November 6, 2005 @ 11:22 pm | Comment

I can’t find the article, but I remember reading one where a Chinese health ministry official was quoted as not knowing if the girl had bird flu, if they had been tested or if an autopsy had been conducted. I thought that was pretty forthcoming, and reflects what I think is a more likely explanation than the authorities covering up: in terms of surveillance, monitoring and quite frankly anything resembling decent medical talent or facilities, vast swaths of China are sorely lacking.

I say it’s time to pull out a page from the Mao success playbook (only a couple of pages in it, but no matter): barefoot doctors 2.0, bird flu edition.

November 7, 2005 @ 12:18 am | Comment

I started receiving emails more than a week ago from readers who’d heard rumors of the 12-year-old girl with bird flu being covered up by the government. I didn’t post it because I had no supporting evidence. But based on what I’m hearing, while the party may be handling bird flu much less horribly than they handled SARS, the very last thing you can do is congratulate them for being forthright and eager to cooperate. Sadly, I always have to assume when they give out any information on something like bird flu (and AIDS and SARS), there is always important information they are keeping secret. Just like when Bush gives us an “update” on his War on Terror, I start with the supposition he is lying. I welcome China to give me serious reasons for not thinking this way. I welcome them to convince me that they are upfront and dedicated to disclosing all the bird flu data they have, and to invite full media coverage of all aspects of the disease. If they do, I will praise them to the stars. Until then, I will presume they are still in their usual pattern of obfuscation and propagandizing.

November 7, 2005 @ 1:46 am | Comment

” …in terms of surveillance, monitoring and quite frankly anything resembling decent medical talent or facilities, vast swaths of China are sorely lacking ..”

This is just utter rubbish. I have been in the remotest parts of Yunnan and have spoken to medics armed with little more than first aid bags, but they impressed me with their knowledge of diseases. And they all had mobile phones. How long does it take to phone the local/county/provincial party secretary or health department to say they have a person with serious flu-like symptoms?
This statement also beggars belief because China has an extremely well developed system of surveillance when it comes to Fa1un G0ng. They can spot a someone meditating from 100km away, but they can’t find a case of pneumonia? Give me a break.
No the real reason behind this is an addiction to secrecy combined with sheer incompetence. Look at this translation from the PRC’s own Caijing magazine:

The MOA has also drafted emergency response plans in September, but those plans have not been publicized. “The plan has been released [internally] and those who should know it have been informed,” a MOA official told Caijing. “There is no need to disclose it to the public.”

Analysts point out that inadequate coordination between the MOH and MOA is the foremost concern, since it may block smooth information flow and undermine China’s aggressive efforts to control the flu before it turns into an epidemic. In China’s central government, the MOA manages poultry-related flu planning and the MOH handles human-related issues. Yang Gonghuan, deputy director of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that in a hypothetical epidemic, the MOH would not intervene until the flu had clearly passed from animals to humans. Gan Menghou, an expert from the China Agricultural University, said the weakest link in the government’s planning to date is that that no ministry has specific jurisdiction over poultry-to-human transmission, potentially the epidemic’s most important element.

When the pig-borne bacterium Streptococcus suis surfaced in August in Sichuan Province, the two ministries seldom exchanged information, releasing death tolls of pigs and humans separately. In mid-October, with the flu threat looming large, the two belatedly established cooperation mechanism, which, experts say, is a crucial step in China’s anti-flu campaign.

Another bottleneck blocking the country’s prevention work is that only one epidemic monitoring institution – the Harbin Veterinary Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, directed by the MOA – is allowed to conduct relevant flu research. As a result, academics cannot independently verify for the public good the authorities’ claims that there have been no human cases of the avian flu virus. When asked about the possibility of human infection in China, Gan told Caijing: “We do not have the conditions for research, and as a professional I cannot say yes or no.”

( Sourced from Billsdue

November 7, 2005 @ 3:07 am | Comment

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