Human to human spread of H5N1 in China

Previously, it was reported that a 22 year old woman who was 4 months pregnant died of H5N1 infection in Hubei Province. A recent report at the Chinese language website ifeng.com indicates that this woman’s parents had died before she did, apparently after eating sick chickens [machine translation by Helblindi at PFI_Forum]. This is strongly suggestive of human to human spread of H5N1.

Although sick chickens are mentioned in the ifeng.com story, there has been no report of H5N1 infections in birds in Hubei Province. Indeed, there have been no reports of H5N1 in animals anywhere in China for all of 2010. The only report to the OIE for H5N1 in animals in China in 2009 is for wild birds in Qinghai Province.

It is certainly possible, probably likely, that there are many unreported H5N1 infections in both animals and humans in China. The question is: why was this particular cluster reported?

Today, the Chinese government has expressed concern that H5N1 might spread human to human at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai (May 1 – October 31, 2010) and the Asian Games in Guangzhou (November 12, 2010 to November 27, 2010) [hat-tip, Pixie].

People’s Daily Online, June 13, 2010

China’s Health Ministry on Saturday called for heightened measures against the possible spread of bird flu virus after a woman in central China died from the disease on June 3.

The ministry urged health authorities at all levels to increase prevention and control measures on respiratory diseases as the country’s southern areas are entering into the peak flu season.

Health authorities at all levels, especially in Shanghai and Guangzhou, host cities respectively for the 2010 World Expo and the Asian Games, were asked to formulate emergency plans to cope with the possible spread of the disease, according to a notice posted on the ministry website.

Health authorities at all levels should report and respond quickly to unidentifiable pneumonia, it said, adding they should also prepare medical equipment and pharmaceuticals to cope with possible outbreaks of respiratory diseases, such as bird flu.

Why such an extraordinary public warning?

We’ll see.

[Update, 6/14/2010. Google Translate was used for the machine translation referenced above. It now appears that this program is yielding at least two different translations at different times. An alternative translation does not suggest that the parents died. The reason for different translations of the same text by the same program is not clear.]

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