In 2003, Time Magazine reporters were instrumental in getting first hand information about the SARS outbreak out of China. Karl Taro Greenfield, who was the editor of Time's Asia edition during the outbreak, recounts the fascinating tale in his book The China Syndrome.
If you've not read it, I highly recommend it.
Today, Austin Ramzy, an American journalist who joined Time's Hong Kong office in 2003, and became their Beijing correspondent in 2007, asks the big question.
Is China making its bird flu outbreak worse?
It's a fairly long article, with a lot of good information. Follow the link to read it in its entirety.
When you return, a brief discussion.
By Austin Ramzy / Beijing Friday, Feb. 13, 2009
Farmers prepare to bury dead chickens on Feb. 5 in Chongqing, China, where nearly 12,000 chickens have been found dead in a local village since January 30. The cause of the death is still not determined
China Photos / Getty Images
One thing is certain about avian influenza: it's deadly. Of the three people who contracted the H5N1 strain of the virus in China last year, three died. In the first six weeks of 2009, eight people have come down with bird flu and five have died. Another thing is that — while the disease has yet to go pandemic as many doctors fear it could — it remains worryingly persistent. Every year since 2003, about 100 people in Asia, the Middle East and Africa contract the disease. Last year, in a rare exception, the number dropped below 50.
But bird flu, it seems, is back.
The article quotes Dr. Guan Yi, a virologist from the University of Hong Kong and a true hero of the SARS outbreak, as being openly suspicious of China's claims of not detecting the H5N1 virus in their poultry.
For those who may not remember, Guan Yi made several trips into mainland China during the SARS outbreak, and literally smuggled samples of the virus back to Hong Kong for Laboratory Analysis.
Guan Yi would also go on to establish the link between the SARS virus and civet cats, a delicacy served in some `Wild Flavor' restaurants in China.
Other well respected scientists, like Dr. Lo Wing-Lok of Hong Kong, a communicable disease expert, recently said Chinese officials had been less than forthright about the spread of bird flu in poultry.
After the discovery of dead, infected birds washed up on the beaches of Lantau Island, he told Bloomberg news, "There's no doubt of an outbreak of bird flu in China, though the government hasn't admitted it."
A major concern is that the poultry vaccine being used by China no longer prevents infection in chickens, but is does mask symptoms.
Infected birds no longer sicken and die, and so owners are not alerted to the danger. The birds are sold, traded, or consumed and the virus spreads silently.
We've seen warnings that this might happen, going back several years. Most recently, Zhong Nanshan, one of the world's most respected respiratory disease specialists gave this advice.
He warned the public to be aware that poultry can be infected with the bird flu virus but show no symptoms. Zhong went on to say, "The existing vaccines can only reduce the amount of virus, rather than totally inactivating it."
For now, China's Ministry of Agriculture maintains that their vaccine is effective and that they are detecting little or no bird flu in their 15 Billion domesticated birds.
Outside of China, however, there is growing skepticism over those claims.
For some recent blogs on this issue, you can also read: