Sat, Nov 11, 2006 - Page 4 News List

China blasts flu research

NO WORRIES A top Beijing expert reiterated criticism of a study about a new bird flu strain and brushed aside concerns expressed by the WHO

AP , BEIJING

China's top veterinary official yesterday rejected as groundless a study that reported a new strain of bird flu in the country, saying it had no basis in science.

The findings, released last week in an international scientific journal, said the strain -- called H5N1 Fujian-like -- was found in almost all poultry outbreaks and some human cases in southern China, and was now also the dominant version in Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

"There is no such new Fujian-like virus variant at all. It is utterly groundless to assert the outbreak of bird flu in Southeast Asian countries was caused by AI [avian influenza] and that there would be a new outbreak wave in the world," Jia Youling (賈幼陵), director of the Agriculture Ministry's veterinary bureau, said in a statement.

"The data cited in the article were unauthentic and the research methodology was not based on science. Therefore their arguments were not tenable and totally against the facts," Jia said.

The study Jia criticized was released in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and was conducted by scientists in Hong Kong and the US.

It charted the spread of the Fujian-like strain by testing geese and ducks found in live markets in six southern Chinese provinces beginning in June of last year.

Over the course of the year, the strain became more pervasive, the study said. Among the 108 samples taken from Chinese poultry this April and June, 103 -- or 95 percent -- were infected with the Fujian-like strain, it said.

The researchers said it was unclear how the strain had emerged or spread so widely.

International health experts have repeatedly complained about Chinese foot-dragging in cooperating on investigating emerging diseases such as bird flu and SARS, which emerged in China's south in lated 2002 and eventually caused the deaths of 774 people worldwide.

Last week, the WHO criticized the Agriculture Ministry for not sharing bird flu samples with the international health body since 2004.

But Jia said at a news conference yesterday: "the virus samples have been delivered to the WHO. This demonstrates China's readiness and willingness to cooperate."

Guan Yi, one of the study's authors, said this week in response to earlier Chinese criticism that he stood by the report's findings.

New strains of viruses emerge regularly, but health experts need to know when any one becomes dominant so they can work to develop a vaccine.

The H5N1 virus has killed at least 152 people worldwide since 2003, according to the WHO.

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