November 16, 2005

China says boy has bird flu antibodies

BEIJING (Reuters) - A senior Chinese official has been
quoted as saying bird flu antibodies were detected in a
9-year-old boy in Hunan province, strongly suggesting he could
become China's first human bird flu infection.

China's health ministry said on Wednesday it had not yet
reached a final conclusion on the case.

The semi-official China News Service, quoting Qi Xiaoqiu,
director of the Ministry of Health's department of disease
control, said the government was waiting for the results of a
joint investigation with the World Health Organization before
confirming whether the boy was the first human case of avian
influenza in the country.

The agency did not say which strain of bird flu the boy had
tested positive for.

He Junyao and his 12-year-old sister fell ill last month
and were treated for pneumonia symptoms. The boy was discharged
from hospital last weekend but his sister died.

Chinese officials said initial tests showed she had tested
negative for bird flu, but the siblings lived close to the site
of a poultry outbreak.

"During the early stage, antibodies were not found, but now
the boy is positive to antibody tests," the China News Service
quoted Qi as saying.

"We are waiting for the advice of the WHO. The WHO has a
set of procedures to confirm a case and it usually takes two
laboratories to confirm."

The WHO said that while it was still awaiting confirmation
one way or the other, the presence of antibodies did suggest
the possibility of human bird flu infection.

"Because the formal investigative process is still under
way, we are not issuing a formal conclusion right now, we are
just saying that it is very probably that it will be declared
as such," said Roy Wadia, WHO spokesman in Beijing.

"If it does turn out conclusively that he is H5N1, we would
not be surprised," he added, referring to a strain deadly to

The health ministry said it believed Qi was referring to a
positive test for the H5 strain which was announced earlier in
the month.

"We cannot rule out the boy will test positive for the H5N1
strain later," a spokesman said.

The WHO is sending a team this week to the southern
province of Hunan to investigate the cases, which China later
said could not be ruled out as bird flu.

Results on the tests being carried out by the WHO in Hunan
could be released next week, or sooner, Wadia said.

The H5N1 virus has killed more than 60 people elsewhere in
Asia since 2003 and is endemic is poultry flocks in many parts
of the region. Almost all of those who died had been in close
contact with infected birds.

China is also probing a possible human infection in a
northeastern province.

To help farmers affected by the mass culling of millions of
birds, China's State Council, or cabinet, will refund value
added tax on all poultry products until the middle of next
year, the official Xinhua news agency said.