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Official blames communication gap for delayed confirmation of bird flu case
Latest Updated by 2006-08-11 11:00:32
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Chinese government officials have blamed a lack of communication between researchers and health officials for the delay in confirming the mainland's first human case of bird flu.

"This incident exposes problems in our scientific research institutes," Vice Health Minister Jiang Zuojun said on Thursday.

Research institutes were omitted from legal requirements to report infectious diseases until December 2004, when the law on prevention and control of infectious diseases was revised to include bird flu as a disease that must by law be reported, he said.

Jiang also pointed out that it took time for researchers to identify the disease in 2003 during the SARS outbreak when diagnosis methods for emerging diseases were poor.

They had to be cautious in the DNA sequencing and epidemiological and genetic studies of the virus, he said.

As Jiang admitted, a spokesman of the World Health Organization believed the revelation of the 2003 case showed a lack of internal communication in the government structure.

The Ministry of Health was not informed about the positive test results when military researchers found out the man was in fact anH5N1 case, according Roy Wadia in WHO's Beijing office.

"The Ministry has acknowledged that communication and reporting mechanisms need to be strengthened to ensure that an incident like this does not occur in the future," Wadia said.

Jiang also said, "In future, scientific research institutes must improve communication and contact with our disease prevention organizations."

Meanwhile, Jiang gave assurances that it was the only case that failed to fit the symptoms of SARS, adding they had no evidence of other cases before 2003.

The Ministry of Health confirmed Tuesday that the country's first human case of H5N1 bird flu occurred in November 2003, two years earlier than previously thought.

A letter published by eight Chinese scientists on June 22 in the New England Journal of Medicine said the virus had been isolated in a 24-year-old man who died in Beijing in 2003.

The man, surnamed Shi, became ill with pneumonia and a respiratory illness and died four days after being hospitalized. China was then in the aftermath of the SARS, and the case was initially thought to be a SARS case. However, laboratory tests for SARS proved negative.

Parallel laboratory tests, carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), later confirmed it was a human case of bird flu.

This is the first human infection confirmed in the world in the current H5N1 virus cycle, according to Wadia.

The newly-confirmed case brought China's human infections of bird flu to 20 and the death toll to 13.

The first human cases of H5N1 bird flu occurred in Hong Kong in1997. Eighteen cases including six deaths were reported at that time. The current cycle of the virus began in late 2003 and felledits first victim in Vietnam in January 2004.

Globally, there have so far been 236 confirmed human cases of bird flu. By Aug. 9, 138 of the people had died, according to WHO figures.

Editor: Donald

By: Source: China View website
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