2005-11-16-China Begins Massive Bird Flu Vaccination CampaignUnderstanding Avian Influenza
2005-11-16-China Begins Massive Bird Flu Vaccination Campaign
Chinese officials say they have begun vaccinating hundreds of millions of chickens and ducks in areas hard hit by the bird flu virus known as H5N1, and plan to vaccinate billions more. Meanwhile, officials have yet to determine whether a nine-year-old boy displaying flu-like symptoms is China's first confirmed human case.
Chinese authorities on Wednesday awaited final results of tests on the boy in southern China's Hunan province, after officials said bird flu antibodies had been found in his blood. The boy's sister died last week after showing flu-like symptoms.
World Health Organization officials are in Hunan investigating reports of that and other possible cases of H5N1 in humans. China has reported at least 11 outbreaks of the virus among poultry flocks in several provinces, but until now, no human cases.
WHO spokesman Roy Wadia of the agency's Beijing office says all signs are pointing to a case of H5N1 in the nine-year-old boy.
"What China said is that it seems to them to be all but certain that he is H5N1 confirmed. However, the investigation that we are at this moment part of is still technically under way," he said.
Chinese officials have sought to reassure the public they are doing everything to stem a pandemic. This week, they ordered the vaccination of all of the country's five billion poultry. Authorities in northeastern China's Liaoning province - one of the country's hardest hit - said on Wednesday that 320 million had already been immunized.
The job is gigantic. China has a third of the world's poultry stock - consuming 14 billion ducks, chickens, geese and other birds each year.
At one of Beijing's public markets, a chicken vendor laughs when a reporter asks her whether she thinks the government will succeed in vaccinating all of the country's poultry.
"I don't know about that," she said. "Chicken is the cheapest meat in China right now. The farmers are the ones who suffer most. They're losing money. They have all these chickens and nobody wants to buy them."
While many people say they are heeding government recommendations to cook the meat thoroughly, many are choosing to not buy it all. Shoppers in Beijing markets say the price of chicken has tumbled by almost half.
H5N1 has killed more than 60 people since it reappeared in Asia two years ago. In all or almost all human cases reported thus far, transmission has been from animals to people. Scientists fear the strain could mutate and become passable from human to human - possibly leading to a worldwide pandemic.