Chinese soldier treated for H5N1

May 29, 2007 (CIDRAP News) – A 19-year-old Chinese soldier is being treated for H5N1 avian influenza, while a woman who was diagnosed with the disease in February has left the hospital after months of treatment, according to reports from China.

China's health ministry announced the soldier's illness 3 days ago, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The soldier started having symptoms, including fever, cough, and pneumonia, on May 9 and was admitted to an army hospital on May 14, where he continued to receive treatment, China Daily reported yesterday. If his case is confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO), it will be listed as China's 25th. The country has reported 15 fatalities.

The health ministry did not say where the soldier was stationed or if he had contact with birds, China Daily reported. However, Joanna Brent, a WHO official in Beijing, said China's health ministry told the WHO the soldier was stationed in the southern province of Fujian.

China has not reported any H5N1 outbreaks in Fujian province poultry this year, but on May 19 the agriculture ministry, in a report to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), said an outbreak at a farm in southern Hunan province killed more than 11,000 ducklings and led to the culling of 9,600 more. The only other poultry outbreak in China reported this year occurred in early January in Tibet, according to the OIE.

State officials, along with the military and the Communist Party, are "highly concerned" about the soldier's case and have ordered the army, which often operates in secrecy, to cooperate with local health officials and monitor those who have had close contact with the infected soldier, China Daily reported. None of the soldier's contacts have shown symptoms of H5N1 infection, the report added.

Henk Bekedam, a WHO representative in China, said the soldier's illness is the 24th Chinese case to have occurred without any report of a related poultry outbreak, the AP reported today. "That is not a good record," he said in the AP report.

Continuing human cases clearly suggest that the H5N1 virus is still circulating and that the animal surveillance system needs to be strengthened, he told the AP. Poor outbreak reporting hampers the ability of experts to track the virus and monitor its evolution, he said.

The patient just released from the hospital is a 44-year-old woman who farms in Fujian province. On Mar 1 the WHO confirmed her as China's 23rd avian flu case-patient. She got sick on Feb 18 and had been in critical condition, according to the WHO report. It said she kept poultry in her back yard, but it was not determined whether she was exposed to sick birds.

She was released after 3 months in the hospital, according to a Reuters report citing Xinhua, China's state news agency, as its source. The woman's condition was critical three times during her hospitalization, the Xinhua report said.

"A doctor in her village will carry out medical checks every day and report her condition to us to ensure her complete recovery," Huang Jian, deputy director of the health bureau in the town of Jianou, where the woman lives, told Xinhua.

Besides the soldier and the farmer, China has had two other human H5N1 cases this year, both from Anhui province: a 16-year-old boy who died in late March and a 27-year-old man who apparently recovered after he was released from the hospital on Jan 6, according to WHO reports.

See also:

OIE reports on Chinese poultry outbreak

Mar 1 WHO report on Fujian province farmer

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