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EPIDEMICS
Experts probe human-to-human spread of China bird flu
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) April 19, 2013


China and Taiwan cooperate on bird flu research
Taipei (AFP) April 21, 2013 - Taiwan has received specimens of the H7N9 avian flu virus from China to help research the new strain, in what an official described Sunday as a landmark move in health cooperation.

The virus samples were taken from China's eastern Anhui province and transported to Taiwan on Saturday, according to the Taiwanese Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

"The virus could be used in producing vaccines and diagnosis," Liu Shih-hao of CDC, told AFP.

"This will help sustain health of people from the two sides ... It is a milestone in the joint prevention and treatment of epidemic by the two sides."

Taiwan and China were split at the end of a civil war in 1949, but ties have improved markedly since 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou of the China-friendly Kuomintang party came to power. He was re-elected in January 2012.

Taiwan, separated from the Chinese mainland by a 180-kilometre (111.6-mile) strait, has made a number of moves to protect itself from the outbreak, which has killed 18 and infected dozens on the mainland.

Taipei has stepped up temperature checks at airports on passenger arrivals from several Chinese cities where infections have been reported.

Earlier this month Taiwanese authorities destroyed more than 100 birds smuggled from the mainland and seized by the coastguard in a fishing port in northern Taiwan.

18 dead from China bird flu: state media
Beijing (AFP) April 21, 2013 - The death toll from a new strain of bird flu in China has reached 18, with dozens infected, state-run media reported, after experts said there is no evidence so far of human-to-human transmission.

A 69-year-old man surnamed Xu is the most recent person to die from from the H7N9 virus, China's official news-agency Xinhua said on its website Saturday. He died on Friday in eastern province of Zhejiang, the agency said.

The virus has been found in a total of 96 people, mostly in eastern China, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Saturday that there was "no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission".

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention had earlier said 40 percent of patients with H7N9 had not come into contact with poultry, raising questions about how people are becoming infected.

It also emerged that the virus had spread among family members in China's commercial hub Shanghai, raising fears that it was passing between humans.

Referring to those cases on Friday, the WHO's representative in China, Michael O'Leary, said investigators were trying to determine whether there had been human-to-human transmission between family members.

"The primary focus of the investigation is to determine whether this is in fact spreading at a lower level among humans. But there is no evidence for that so far except in these very rare instances," he said.

O'Leary also said that over 50 percent of those with the virus remembered coming into contact with birds.

"As the investigation gets deeper we have found more than half where there is a known contact with poultry," he said.

A 15-strong team of international health experts are carrying out a week-long mission in Beijing and Shanghai to investigate the virus, for which no vaccine currently exists.

Since China announced nearly three weeks ago that it had found the strain in people for the first time, almost all of the cases have occurred in Shanghai and four nearby provinces while one appeared in Beijing.

The WHO has praised Chinese authorities for their handling of the crisis.

Experts from the UN's health agency are examining whether the H7N9 bird flu virus is spreading among humans, after a cluster of cases among relatives, but downplayed fears of a pandemic Friday.

"What we don't know is the size of the iceberg under this tip," said the World Health Organisation's representative in China after revealing details of three families who have shown possible human-to-human transmission.

Michael O'Leary was speaking as 15 global international health experts began a week-long mission in Beijing and Shanghai to investigate the H7N9 bird flu virus, which has killed 17 people and sickened 74 others.

As questions remain about the virus source and China faces global scrutiny on its handling of the disease, President Xi Jinping was also cited by state media as urging officials to do their utmost to "contain the spread" of H7N9.

O'Leary said Friday: "The primary focus of the investigation is to determine whether this is in fact spreading at a lower level among humans. But there is no evidence for that so far except in these very rare instances."

He said one family in Shanghai had shown evidence of more than one family member being infected with the deadly strain.

In the two other clusters, one family member was infected while the other was "clinically similar and presumed H7N9".

He said investigators were trying to determine whether the family members were infected with the virus from the same source, or from each other.

Since China announced nearly three weeks ago that it had found the strain in people for the first time, almost all of the cases have occurred in Shanghai and four nearby provinces while one appeared in Beijing.

O'Leary also said investigations into the source of the virus were continuing, though the virus is believed to be crossing to humans from birds, prompting mass poultry culls in several cities.

A link to wild birds remained open to question, with a Chinese Academy of Sciences zoologist saying 15 of 16 cases it tracked occurred along a migratory route, while the State Forestry Administration said 860 wildlife samples had so far tested negative for H7N9.

O'Leary also said that over 50 percent of those with the virus remembered coming into contact with birds.

"As the investigation gets deeper we have found more than half where there is a known contact with poultry," he said.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention had earlier said 40 percent of patients with H7N9 had not come into contact with poultry.

O'Leary stressed again that authorities had offered the WHO unrestricted access in the investigation.

In 2003 China was accused of trying to cover up the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which went on to kill about 800 people worldwide. But it has received praise for its transparent handling of H7N9.

At a briefing Wednesday, a senior official from China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention also stressed that the family clusters did not necessarily indicate that one relative had spread the virus to another.

"Even though there are a few family cluster cases, it does not mean the virus has the ability to effectively transmit from human to human," said Feng Zijian, according to the transcript.

A seven-year-old girl who contracted the strain left hospital on Wednesday, but since then a group of men have been stationed near her home to prevent her from straying too far, the Beijing News said on Friday.

With no vaccine for the virus for now, some people have turned to traditional Chinese medicine to guard against it, although experts warned that these might only help to treat rather than prevent the disease.

A pharmacist surnamed Zhu in Shanghai, where the largest number of cases has been found, said customers had been buying a traditional Chinese herb for colds called banlangen, which they believe gives protection from the virus.

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