China has finally announced its long-awaited (and in Shanghaiist’s opinion very long overdue) first human case of bird flu. While the CNN story does not confirm the flu strain, the unlinkable subscription-only South China Morning Post (which has some of the best, most up-to-date information on bird flu) reports that the boy in Hunan province tested positive for the H5N1 strain. While the boy has successfully recovered after falling ill at the end of October from eating part of a chicken that had sickened and died, his 12-year old sister did not … though at the moment her death can only be presumed to be caused by bird flu. Three other suspected human H5N1 cases have not yet been confirmed.
While there have been nearly 150 human cases of H5N1 bird flu elsewhere in Asia, officially, China has denied any human cases until today. Shanghaiist has been somewhat skeptical about the rest of the world’s apparent lack of skepticism, even before reading SCMP reports about unannounced outbreaks elsewhere in hard-hit Liaoning province, where guards placed to keep outsiders from entering affected villages warn passersby of human deaths within. A hodge-podge of conflicting information on outbreaks and human cases and a barrage of denials from various local officials (including one who was arrested for certifying the health of bird-flu-infected chickens), even after outbreaks have been officially announced gives Shanghaiist the unsettling feeling that the entire situation will inevitably blow up a la SARS 2003. And all of the laudatory international recognition for the way Beijing has handled bird flu thus far seems to completely ignore what really matters: the (questionable) accountability of local officials at the site of unfolding outbreaks, and how well-equipped they are to handle bird flu.
Two new outbreaks in Xinjiang province have been announced in Urumqi and Zepu, approximately 1,500 kilometers apart. Since the end of October, China has announced outbreaks in Anhui, Liaoning, Hunan and Hubei provinces, and also in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The latest outbreaks in Xinjiang are the 10th and 11th outbreaks China has announced in just a month.
Today, China also announced plans to vaccinate its entire poultry stock of 14 billion birds in one of its most ambitious attempts to prevent the spread of bird flu. But this news comes with the knowledge that heavily-hit Liaoning province, which has yet to control the spread of bird flu despite a 13 million bird cull, has largely blamed its ongoing struggle on widely-distributed, uncertified bird flu vaccines. From an SCMP story dated November 12:
Many farmers in Heishan county had used a vaccine produced by Inner Mongolia Jingyu Group — a Shanghai listed company — which offered little protection against the deadly disease. It said the company was given special approval to produce the vaccine last year by the Ministry of Agriculture due to the pressing market demand for H5N1 vaccines, but the vaccine was intended for testing in infected areas exclusively and it was not supposed to be sold.
The company issued a statement on Thursday saying its salesmen had smuggled the vaccine for sales in the market. After the outbreak the company’s licence to produce veterinary medicine was suspended and the firm admitted some of the vaccine was sold to Heishan, although it said the amount remained small.
Just to put 14 billion birds in perspective, this number accounts for approximately one-fifth of the world’s entire poultry stock.
Also on Shanghaiist:
Still ‘finger lickin’ good’?
Shanghai might start producing Tamiflu
Paranoia will destroy ya
Sole Search: Bird flu cleaning Shanghai’s shoes
OK, now we’re worried about the bird flu