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WHO worried by China's use of flu drug on birds

by 5m Editor
21 June 2005, at 12:00am

CHINA - The World Health Organisation gave tacit confirmation on Tuesday that Chinese farmers had used anti-viral drugs on poultry to curb the spread of bird flu, a practice China denied giving its backing.

WHO worried by China's use of flu drug on birds - CHINA - The World Health Organisation gave tacit confirmation on Tuesday that Chinese farmers had used anti-viral drugs on poultry to curb the spread of bird flu, a practice China denied giving its backing.

Scientists fear that bird flu, which is infectious in birds but does not spread easily among humans, could mutate and generate a pandemic, likely to start in Asia, that could kill millions of people.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that Chinese farmers, acting with government approval and encouragement, had tried to suppress major bird flu outbreaks among chickens with amantadine, possibly making it useless in fighting human influenza.

China's Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday the government had never given its approval for amantadine to treat birds but that it would investigate its use.

"We are not completely sure about how widespread (amantadine use in China) is, but it has not been a complete surprise to us that it has been used," WHO representative Henk Bekedam told Reuters.

Misuse of anti-virals could make bird flu viruses, including the deadly H5N1 strain, resistant to the drugs and give doctors fewer weapons to handle outbreaks among people.

"We know in general these resistances are gradually building up," Bekedam said.

"The part that concerns us... is these things should not be unnecessarily speeded up. And therefore the use of anti-virals in agriculture needs to be very closely monitored. And the same thing for the use of anti-virals in humans."

H5N1 first surfaced in poultry in Hong Kong and China eight years ago and his killed at least 37 people in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand and four in Cambodia.

Vietnam reported on Monday that two more people had contracted bird flu in the country's north.

The same day, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) officially asked the Chinese government for a response on the amantadine issue, Bekedam said, noting the story in the China Daily was a good sign China was taking the problem seriously.

Representatives of the WHO and FAO and counterparts from China's health, agriculture and state forestry ministries on Sunday flew to China's western Qinghai province to inspect avian flu prevention efforts after wild birds killed by H5N1 were found in the region in May.

"What we still think is the main issue for us to get an understanding of is 'what is this virus?'. Is this the virus that we saw last year, or is this is a virus which might have even travelled as far as from Vietnam and Thailand?" Bekedam said.

China successfully curbed an avian flu outbreak in Qinghai last year, culling thousands of birds.

No infections of domesticated birds or humans have been reported in the recent outbreak.

Beijing delayed the Qinghai trip for almost three weeks and refused to allow the international inspectors access to neighbouring Xinjiang, a region where a bird flu outbreak was reported early this month.

The delay was caused by difficulties in coordinating between the different parties, Bekedam said.

The inspectors would finish their work in Qinghai by Thursday night and stage a similar trip to Xinjiang as soon as next week, he said.

Source: Reuters - 21st June 2005

5m Editor