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Boxun Human Bird Flu Cases in Gangcha County Qinghai China

Recombinomics Commentary
June 1, 2005

>>  China reported last week that a couple of hundred wild geese had died of avian flu in China's remote Qinghai province, north of Tibet. Niman didn't just speculate about the implications. He went to a Chinese-language news source and used Babelfish, an online translation service, to get more about the story.

What he got was not just a couple of hundred dead geese, but a thousand wild birds from five different species. And he obtained reports of 121 human deaths in 18 villages near the site of the bird deaths. Coupled with reports of 200 unusual illnesses, this began to look to Niman like human-to-human transmission of avian flu, with a catastrophic 60 percent case mortality rate.  <<

A few clarifications on the commentary on the commentaries are in order.  The information on the over than 1000 dead birds near Qinghai Lake comes from many sources.  Initial wire service reports described the deaths of 178 bar headed geese.  These initial reports clearly indicated that the deaths were not linked to bird flu.

Follow-up reports indicated dead birds had tested positive for H5N1, although the number and relationship to the 178 previously reported deaths was unclear.  Clarification came from the initial report filed by China to the OIE, which described 519 dead birds representing 5 species in Gangcha Province, Qingahia Province.  These deaths were laboratory confirmed.  In the weekly OIE report the 519 were again listed but the report indicated that the virus isolated from the birds was H5N1 and was highly pathogenic in laboratory infected chickens.

The official report was followed by a news conference, which was widely reported.  At the news conference the deaths of over 1000 birds were reported and one media report indicated most were in Qinghai Province, suggesting the bird deaths might be widespread.

For the human cases, the initial report came from Promed, who had translated the Abundant News story.  That reported indicated six tourists had died.  Four were named and three of the four were from Chengdu, Sichuan Province (about 400 miles southeast of Qinghai Lake).  The clustering of three deaths of three tourists from the same location would be cause for concern.  These initial reports were followed by a report of 121 deaths in 18 communities in Gangcha Province, along with 79 infections generating a case fatality rate of over 60%.

Follow-up reports included a smaller number of cases in more distant communities as well as a news blackout, checks of computer, difficulties connecting to the Internet, and related issues centered on limiting news.

All of the reports linked to the human cases come from the same source and have not been independently verified.  However, these reports are quite specific and the severity of the reported events is quite clear and not lost in translation.  If verified, these reports would dwarf prior reports on human H5N1 cases and move the 2005 flu pandemic from phase 5, which involve an increase in human-to-human transmission, to the final phase 6, which is sustained and widespread human-to-human transmission.

Although not verified, the reports via Abundant News are quite specific and consistent. The disease described is somewhat atypical, involving fever and vomiting, but not respiratory illness.  The specifics in the series of reports are not adequately addressed with blanket denials by official sources in China.

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