News - Stop hoarding bird flu virus samples, China told
The World Health Organization has urged China to share bird flu virus samples with foreign scientists, saying Beijing has failed to release samples of the deadly H5N1 virus from any of 31 reported outbreaks in Chinese poultry this year.
"If we received these samples from animals we would know what kind of changes the virus is undergoing, which is very, very vital in fighting against any potential pandemic," Shigeru Omi, WHO's western Pacific director, told a news conference on Friday.
There was no immediate response from Chinese officials. It was not clear why they would be reluctant to provide virus samples, especially after being criticized for a coverup that delayed other countries' responses to the SARS outbreak of 2003.
Although it still mostly attacks birds, the virus has proved deadly when it jumps to people who handle infected poultry. Scientists fear mutations will enable it to spread easily from person to person, setting the stage for a global tragedy.
China shared samples from people but not birds
Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Omi praised Vietnam for making virus samples from its poultry outbreaks available to WHO scientists.
And he commended China for sharing samples from infected people, if not from birds.
Of more than 70 human deaths attributed to the virus across Asia, China has confirmed just two.
FROM DEC, 22, 2005: Bird flu kills 2 in Vietnam, despite drug treatment
An Oxford University study published this week concluded that in two fatal cases in Vietnam, the virus had developed a resistance to Tamiflu, a drug seen as the best defence against it so far.
Omi said ordinary Chinese remain dangerously ignorant of the risk of infection.
During a five-day visit to China, he talked to a nine-year-old boy who survived the disease in Hunan province, Reuters reported.
"The boy that I met, he did not know anything about this," Omi said. "For him, chickens are friends, so he touched (them)."
CBC News: Stop hoarding bird flu virus samples, China told