Mar 8, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – China reported today that a 9-year-old girl died 2 days ago of H5N1 avian influenza, becoming the country's 10th person to succumb to the virus.
The girl, whose case was announced Feb 27, lived in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. She fell ill on Feb 10 and was in critical condition by the time her case was made public.
China has had 15 confirmed human cases of avian flu. With the girl's case, the global death toll has increased to 96 out of 175 cases, by the WHO's count.
The girl's case, along with that of a 32-year-old man who died Mar 2, has prompted questions about how people are getting infected, according to a Reuters report published today.
No bird outbreaks of H5N1 have been reported in Zhejiang in recent months, but the girl fell ill after visiting relatives in Anhui province who owned some chickens, some of which were sick, according to earlier reports.
The 32-year-old victim was from Guangdong province and lived in an urban area with no reported bird outbreaks, Reuters reported. The story said he was believed to have been exposed to the virus at a poultry market.
Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, suggested that both victims might have caught the virus from chickens that were carrying it asymptomatically, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, a top Chinese health official was quoted today as saying that China's human victims of avian flu had "defective" immune systems. A Bloomberg News story said the comments by Wang Longde, vice minister of health, were reported by the Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post.
Wang said the government had studied several cases, but he gave no details, according to the report. The Bloomberg story stated that Wang "said the victims had 'defective' immune systems and the general public shouldn't panic."
However, published scientific reports have not pointed to weak immunity as a common risk factor in human cases. (See link to CIDRAP overview of avian influenza, below.)
A WHO official, Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, told the Hong Kong newspaper there is no scientific evidence that infection is linked to immunity. She said cases have been associated with contact with birds, not strength or weakness.
Also today, the WHO reported that a 3-day conference in Geneva produced progress on plans for responding quickly to early signs of a flu pandemic. In a news release, the agency said the operational plan "moved closer to final form" as the meeting of 70 public health experts ended today.
The results of the meeting will be circulated for review and published as soon as they are ready, the WHO promised.
CIDRAP overview of avian influenza and its implications for human disease