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. China Clamps Down On Flu Talk

File photo: Chinese chickens are checked for the flu.
by Kate Walker
Le Bugue, France (UPI) Jul 11, 2006
In a case eerily reminiscent of the George Orwell novel "1984," a Chinese farmer who reported outbreaks of avian influenza in his region has been imprisoned for three-and-a-half years.

Qiao Songju, who farmed geese in China's eastern Jiangsu province, was originally arrested in November 2005, one month after reporting news of the outbreaks to the central government, the official state news agency Xinhua reported.

Qiao has been imprisoned on charges of fraud and blackmail; according to Xinhua he denied most -- but not all -- charges. It is unclear on what grounds the charge of fraud stands, as the outbreaks reported by Qiao were confirmed and responded to. Nor were details of the blackmail charges made clear.

According to Xinhua, the prosecution told the court that Qiao should be "charged with two crimes," on the grounds that he had "used measures such as fabricating facts and hiding truth to swindle public and personal property."

As many readers will remember from the SARS outbreak of 2003, the Chinese government has a long history of covering up and suppressing any news that could paint the central authority in a negative light. In June local media outlets reported that the government planned to penalize media outlets for reporting news of emergencies -- a broad definition that includes outbreaks of disease, rioting and natural disasters, to name but a few -- without full and official authorization.

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Also in China, authorities have begun to investigate the death of a 24-year-old man who died during the SARS outbreak of 2003 as a possible avian-influenza death, People's Daily Online reported.

In the New England Journal of Medicine, eight Chinese scientists wrote a letter claiming that the bird-flu virus had been isolated in the man, who died in Beijing in 2003 during the height of the SARS scare.

At the time of death he was assumed to have been infected with SARS, as he suffered from pneumonia and respiratory-tract infection, but it was established in post-mortem laboratory tests that he had not come into contact with the disease.

Following the publication of the letter, China's Ministry of Health contacted the eight scientists and is now conducting follow-up tests in independent laboratories to establish whether the young man, who has not been named, may have been China's first human fatality from avian influenza.

"In accordance with World Health Organization and China's diagnostic standards for human avian influenza, parallel laboratory tests are needed for further confirmation," People's Daily cited Mao Qun'an, ministry spokesman, as saying.

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Spain has now confirmed its first case of avian influenza in a wild bird.

The bird, a wild duck, was discovered in the northern province of Alava -- the same province where a great crested grebe, confirmed Friday by a local laboratory to have been infected with H5N1, was found six weeks ago.

Samples of the grebe have since been sent to the official avian-influenza laboratory in Weybridge, England, to establish whether it suffered from the same strain of avian influenza as has been infecting birds across Asia, or a new variant altogether.

Following the discovery of the dead duck, Spanish authorities imposed a 2-mile quarantine zone around the marsh where it -- and the grebe -- was found, and a 6-mile surveillance zone. Additional protective and hygiene measures are also in place.

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While not entirely halting avian-influenza outbreaks among the poultry in four counties, Romania's culling program can be viewed as an avian-flu success story.

In May 18 Romanian counties were facing bird-flu outbreaks. By June 30 that figure had been reduced to four, largely as a result of the widespread culls that saw close to 1 million birds slaughtered in the month of May.

According to a report prepared by Monica Dobrescu for the Romanian Foreign Agricultural Service, based in Sofia, the speed of the spread of bird flu "decreased very much in the last two weeks, and no new outbreaks were detected since June 8." Of the earlier reported outbreaks, Dobrescu wrote, "about 80 percent of the outbreaks were due to the sale of live poultry from the infected farms."

Source: United Press International

Related Links
The science and news of Epidemics on Earth

Satellite Systems To Warn Of Health Threats
Paris, France (SPX) Jul 11, 2006
Satellite solutions can make all the difference to the efficiency of telemedicine. With this in mind, ESA is preparing a European telemedicine via satellite programme which will be of direct benefit to the healthcare community.

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