Bird Flu Reported in Beijing

Authorities in Beijing ban poultry from entering the capital from elsewhere in China following the death of a Fujian woman from the H5N1 avian influenza virus.
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Patients seen through a window receive intravenous injections at a hospital in Beijing, January 2009.
Patients seen through a window receive intravenous injections at a hospital in Beijing, January 2009.
AFP/Liu Jin
HONG KONGAuthorities in the Chinese capital are banning all fresh poultry from entering the city from other parts of China after a 19-year-old woman died of bird flu.

The woman, who was from Putian city in the southeastern province of Fujian, arrived in Beijing last February and lived in the city's Chaoyang district.

Beijing municipal health officials said some of the people from her village had bought nine live ducks from a poultry market in Yanjiao Qingong city in neighboring Hebei province.

...We are quite helpless when it comes to bird flu."
Beijing resident

They had had them slaughtered there and brought them back to Beijing. The dead woman had washed and gutted the carcasses.

Five days later, she was taken to the Beijing Thoracic Diseases Hospital and two other hospitals to seek treatment.

The hospital diagnosed her with pneumonia, reasons unknown, and she died on Monday. Her blood samples tested positive for the H5N1 virus.

She had had close contact with 116 people, of which 14 were her immediate family or neighbors. Others were healthcare workers, municipal health officials said. One nurse had shown signs of fever, but the rest had shown no signs of getting sick.

Warnings 'went unheeded'

Bird flu expert and microbiologist Guan Yi, currently based at the University of Hong Kong, cited many calls in recent years for better preventive measures against bird flu, but said that the Chinese authorities had paid little heed.

"There are definite methods you can use to prevent an outbreak of bird flu. But the authorities won't listen, and ordinary Chinese people are endangered by it as a result. This is a disease which is now endemic in China," Guan said.

"Because the authorities haven't taken appropriate preventive measures over the last few years, I have written several articles about this, criticizing the inadequacy of the arrangements. They even accused me of plagiarism."

"The likelihood of bird flu decreases when controls on birds are implemented. I am speaking the truth very clearly, but they haven't got ears to hear."

He said China had lived under the threat of bird flu for many years now, and that controlling the disease would be twice as hard during the forthcoming lunar new year celebrations, when masses of people travel to their hometowns.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a heightened risk of bird flu outbreaks among humans in the northern hemisphere as temperatures drop this winter, as the virus is able to survive for longer at lower temperatures, which would help it to spread.

Ban on poultry

Beijing has banned live poultry from other parts of the country from entering the city, following the 19-year-old woman's death.

Only birds approved by the city's headquarters of animal disease control are allowed to come into the city, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Beijing's agricultural bureau has issued orders to boost monitoring of the live poultry trade, while experts have begun inspections of the city's slaughterhouses and poultry farms.

No domestic fowl were kept within 10 kms of Sanjianfangdong village of Beijing's Chaoyang district, where the dead woman lived, Xinhua said.

The city government said a total of 116 people, including the patient's 14 family members and neighbors and 102 medical workers, had been in close contact with the patient. One nurse who had been in contact with the patient suffered from fever but has recovered.

China has reported the case to the World Health Organization and informed health authorities in Hong Kong and Macau.

Fears for health

In Beijing, local residents said they are being more careful about what they eat.

A Chaoyang district resident surnamed Zhou said: "I am in a poor state of health myself, and am very weak. I frequently catch colds and flu. I think the authorities could do more to protect our health. The weather is also very cold right now, with a huge difference in temperature between night and day ... and it's very easy for disease to spread."

A Beijing resident surnamed Zhang said she seldom bought fresh poultry at the market anyway because of the prevalence of bird flu in China, and had already cut down on her intake of fresh poultry.

"I haven't heard of any measures they have taken other than disinfecting and quarantining the woman's home and surrounding area. But we are quite helpless when it comes to bird flu. There's really very little anyone can do about it."

Alex Thiermaun, special adviser to the director of the World Organization for Animal Health, urged the government to reward the initial reporting of the virus.

“In order to have a rapid mechanism for detecting and reporting  the new findings of new diseases … it has to be accompanied by incentives of various levels,” he said.

Jin Fusheng, a U.S.-based medical doctor, agreed.

“The earlier the report, the less damage it may cause to others,” he said.

“A special foundation for bird flu should be established to ensure the reward funds are available. And this kind of foundation doesn’t take a lot of money to set up, maybe 10,000 yuan for each province is good enough.”

Original reporting in Cantonese by Fung Yat-yiu and in Mandarin by Yang Jiadai.
Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Jia Yuan and Luisetta Mudie. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.





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