Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Beijing reports new bird flu outbreak in northwest


China has suffered a new outbreak of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in poultry, a news report said yesterday, as experts were trying to determine whether a Chinese man died of the disease in 2003, two years before the country reported any human cases.

The new outbreak was found near Zhongwei, a city in the Ningxia region, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the Agriculture Ministry. It didn't say how many or what type of birds were affected.

Ministry experts were sent to the area "to control any possible outbreak" and local authorities were disinfecting vehicles and people traveling into and out of the area, Xinhua said.

China has reported more than 30 bird flu outbreaks in poultry since last October.

Bird flu has killed at least 130 people worldwide since it began ravaging Asian poultry stocks in late 2003. The highest death toll is in Vietnam, where 42 people have died.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry was investigating whether a man who died in 2003 had bird flu instead of SARS as initially thought, according to the WHO.

That fatality came two years before China reported its first human cases of bird flu last year. The country has suffered 12 human fatalities from the disease since then.

The case raised questions about China's ability to detect emerging diseases and keep international health bodies informed about them.

The 24-year-old man died at a Beijing military hospital, according to Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in the Chinese capital.

Military hospitals figured prominently in the government's failure to disclose the true scale of the spread of SARS in 2003.

The case was brought to public attention by a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine by a group of eight Chinese scientists.

It "does raise the question of why the Ministry of Health was not told of this case," Wadia said on Friday.

China's failure to release timely information about SARS has been cited by health experts as contributing to the disease's spread.

SARS eventually killed 774 people worldwide.

In the 2003 case, initial tests failed to find the SARS virus but further testing on the man's lung tissue yielded fragments of a flu virus, the scientists' letter said. It said genetic sequencing revealed it to be a mixed virus, with genes similar to two distinct types of bird flu seen in northern and southern China. The death raised the possibility that other cases attributed to SARS may have actually been H5N1 infections.

Wadia said WHO has asked the ministry whether other suspect cases are being tested and hasn't received a response.

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