A new strain of bird flu virus, like the one originally found in China’s Fujian Province by researchers from the University of Hong Kong and American St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital at Tennessee, has spread to 6 other provinces and 3 other countries. While the Chinese Government continues to deny its existence, the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has reported that this Fujian-like strain has infected 6 Southern Provinces in China and spread to Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, and Thailand.
This is the third strain of bird flu found so far, but unlike the others, this one is spreading rapidly and researchers suspect the compulsory vaccination of poultry incapable of resisting a Fujian-like infection may be the cause. Researchers are also alarmed by the dramatic predominance of this virus replacing all other strains and say that 95% of the cases found now are infestations of this strain. To bolster their case and to highlight the seriousness of the issue, researchers say that they found 5 human infestations from different provinces of China with this strain. One researcher writing in the New Scientist says that there are up to 20 known cases of human infestations with 1 death in Thailand .
Just as it did during the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the Chinese Government continues to deny the epidemic, conceal data, and stonewall research. Coincidentally, like SARS, this new strain also originated in the southern provinces and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 774 of the 8,098 infected people died. Similarly, improper health conditions in the same area sparked off the current bird flu epidemic which has since mutated. Even at that time, the Chinese Government denied the epidemic till they were confronted by overwhelming evidence. This time around, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman says that “the bird flu viruses selected from the south share a high uniformity” and that “There has been no marked change in the biological characteristics of the organisms.”
Given its track record to hide data seen as nationally disparaging, the Chinese Government’s assertions are suspect. For example, the first human death according to the Government was November 2005 but this has been disputed by scientists who worked in Chinese laboratories. In a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, they argued that the first human death was in November 2003. In effect, China willfully withheld information that could have saved the world billions of dollars and united research to fight the epidemic. It is also being reported that it tried to stop the publication of the New Scientist article in June 2006 through an impersonation mail in the name of the author Wu-Chun Cao asking the journal to hold the study.
When confronted with the information, the Government owned up to covering up the information and the date of the 1st death but also clamped down on reporting of bird flu incidents severely handicapping research and cure for the virus. The WHO went on record blaming China for curbing efforts “to determine how the deadly virus is mutating and spreading.” Some believe that bird flu like virus has been circulating within China for over a decade before emerging from Vietnam in 2001. Researchers say that southern China is now the “epicenter” of bird flu where new strains continue to emerge. Despite such strong condemnation and criticism, China continues to withhold key information such as gene sequence data of the 2005 bird flu virus.
India should join the world medical and scientific community in demanding more transparency from China . India should convince China that the objective is not to humiliate the ancient nation but to find ways for common cure