Way cleared for China to share H5N1 samples

Sep 11, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – US officials have resolved what they're calling a lapse in communication that has contributed to China's delay in sending promised poultry samples of H5N1 avian influenza virus to the United States.

Early last week, a Chinese agricultural official told news services that Beijing was still working out a protocol for sharing poultry H5N1 samples with the international community, even though the government had promised in March to provide up to 20 samples for analysis in World Health Organization (WHO)-affiliated laboratories.

After the announcement, the newspaper China Daily reported that the agriculture ministry had blamed a US lab for the delay, saying the lab did not complete required import procedures. A WHO representative, however, told Agence France-Presse last week that logistical arrangements were already in place.

Kathy Harben, a spokesperson on global issues for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Associated Press (AP) Sep 8 that the samples were delayed because China and the CDC had problems agreeing whether the samples should be classified as diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Packing and handling procedures are the same for both, but Harben said the CDC preferred the samples be shipped as "undiagnosed" because the forms and approval process for such samples take less time. She said the approval process for "diagnosed" samples, the classification preferred by the Chinese agriculture ministry, could take weeks.

China and the CDC agreed to have the samples shipped as "diagnosed," Harben told the AP, and said she expected that the CDC would receive the samples by the end of September.

Harben told CIDRAP News today that officials are still working out details about what samples are coming. "We'll know more later," she said.

The CDC routinely works with China's health ministry whenever it receives human H5N1 samples; however, Harben said receiving poultry samples is rare and has been somewhat more difficult because CDC officials are making arrangements with a different branch of government, the agriculture ministry.

China has not shared avian flu virus samples from poultry since late 2004, according to recent news reports. Poultry H5N1 viruses, especially those from China, are needed to develop vaccines and drugs.

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