Yesterday China's Ministry of Health confirmed the country's first three human avian flu cases. One of the three, a woman in eastern Anhui province, has died from the H5N1 avian flu strain. (See Xinhua, Reuters, CNN reports).
Just one avian flu death in a country of 1.3 billion people is remarkable, and in stark contrast with its neighbour Vietnam, which has so far had 42 confirmed deaths. So has China been very lucky so far - or are the Chinese authorities lying? Certainly their track record during much of the SARS crisis was of slowness, lack of openness and under-reporting, downplaying its severity and hence helping it spread.
Local media sources suggest that China might not be reporting every avian flu outbreak. The most serious of these claims - and the most detailed - was reported Monday by unofficial Chinese news site Boxun.com, who were the first to break news about SARS in China. According to the iFlu.org website, which carries an English translation of their report, at least 310 people have died in China so far from avian flu:
It published a detailed breakdown of human bird flu infections in the country, including claims that there has been human to human spread, widespread quarantine, and at least 310 deaths so far this year. If true, the report would be the first indication that the situation in the country is far more serious than the Chinese government is willing to admit. China officially claims to have had no human infections.
The accompanying table indicates total infections of 854 as of November 12, which implies a very high mortality rate. Over 5,500 people have been quarantined. Human-to-human infections have occurred in seven provinces. Boxun says that since the statistics were collated by the Central State Council, "they would have reduced it somewhat, and hence, the actual figures may be higher."