Dec 27, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A World Health Organization (WHO) official recently urged China to share more information on avian influenza outbreaks in poultry and to change farming practices to help prevent the disease.
In addition, China said it has developed a new antiviral drug for flu patients and a new avian flu vaccine for poultry, both of which are said to be better than existing products.
Shigeru Omi, the WHO's Western Pacific regional director, talked about Chinese information-sharing and farming practices during his recent visit to China, according to news accounts.
Omi praised China for sharing some data on recent human cases of avian flu but said data on more than 30 outbreaks in poultry had not been divulged, according to a Dec 23 Agence France-Presse (AFP) report.
"Human H5N1 viruses are only part of the story," Omi said at a news briefing. "To fully understand how this virus is evolving, we need viruses from outbreaks in animals."
Omi said Chinese officials shared data on the H5N1 flu outbreak in wild birds at Quinghai Lake earlier this year and also shared five virus isolates from animal last year, according to AFP.
He said China was not hiding cases, but a lack of surveillance and awareness in rural areas prevents quick and efficient reporting of outbreaks, according to the story.
Julie Hall, a WHO expert on the virus, said WHO has agreed to share virus isolates from two of its six human cases and to provide viral genetic sequence information for two more cases, AFP reported.
Omi said China's common practices of raising different kinds of animals together and living close to them need to change, according to another AFP report. He made the comments in an interview with Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.
"We cannot kill all the chickens and ducks to prevent bird flu from spreading among them and to humans; therefore we have to make sure the chickens, ducks and humans do not mingle together," Omi was quoted as saying.
But he acknowledged that this can't be achieved "overnight," given China's huge poultry population.
The claim about a new and better anti-flu drug came yesterday from Chinese scientist Li Song of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, according to a report published today on the China Daily Web site.
The new drug is a neuraminidase inhibitor, like the existing antivirals oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza), Li said.
"We have completed clinical experiments, and find it is more effective on humans than Tamiflu," Li said of the new drug, which was not named. He made the comments at a forum on prevention and control of avian flu.
Li said the drug would be produced by Chinese companies and would cost only a quarter to a third as much as oseltamivir costs in China.
The story mentioned no published scientific reports on the drug. A WHO spokesman in China said he had no information on it, according to an AFP story published today.
The report of a new avian flu vaccine for poultry came in another China Daily story, published yesterday. Jia Youling, China's chief veterinary officer, said scientists have developed a live-virus vaccine that protects poultry from both avian flu and Newcastle disease, according to the story.
The combination vaccine can be administered orally, nasally, or by spray, as well as by injection, Jia said. He asserted that the former techniques would save labor and confer increased immunity. Moreover, he said, the vaccine's production cost is only about a fifth as high as that of other vaccines on the market.
The vaccine is the product of four years of development at the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, Jia reported.
Bu Zhigao, a chief scientist on the vaccine project, said the vaccine can protect mammals, such as mice, from avian flu, according to the story.
As with the new drug, the China Daily story mentioned no published scientific reports on the vaccine.
The government expedited approval of the vaccine after its safety and efficacy were demonstrated, Jia said. The story said that authorities approved mass production of the vaccine Dec 23 and that 1 billion doses would be produced by the end of this month.
China is mounting a campaign to vaccine all of its billions of poultry against avian flu. Authorities claimed to have vaccinated 6.85 billion birds as of mid-December.
In other recent news, the WHO on Dec 23 recognized the two latest human cases of avian flu reported in Indonesia. The cases were in an 8-year-old boy who died Dec 15 and a 39-year-old man who died Dec 12. The Indonesian government reported confirmation of the cases earlier last week.
Dec 23 WHO update