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WHO in Hunan over Possible Bird Flu Cases

The WHO experts investigating suspected cases of avian influenza amongst three people in central China's Hunan Province said they were satisfied with a report by the provincial health department made to them and Ministry of Health officials on Monday afternoon.

"Everything is going well. What we heard about are all good things, and we're satisfied with the preventative measures taken in Hunan. But we still need to make further investigations." said one of the WHO experts.

They were due to continue their investigations today and tomorrow in the prefectures of Changsha and Xiangtan, where three cases of "pneumonia of unknown cause" were diagnosed in October, according to the provincial health department.

One 12-year-old girl died on October 17 and her 9-year-old brother was discharged from hospital last Friday following 25 days of treatment after they both ate meat from poultry that died during an H5N1 bird flu outbreak. The boy is still in quarantine pending the ministry and WHO's findings.

A 36-year-old school teacher is also still in hospital.

The WHO experts will visit Hunan Provincial Children's Hospital where the sister and brother were treated, the village where the epidemic broke out, and medical institutions in Xiangtan, according to the department.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Mao Qun'an told China Daily yesterday that tests are being conducted on a fourth possible human case in the northeastern province of Liaoning, also diagnosed as pneumonia.

A 36-year-old woman called Liu, who owns a small chicken farm, had helped neighbors dispose of infected dead chickens a week before developing a high fever and being hospitalized on November 6.

Liu Yanhua, science and technology vice minister in charge of vaccine research and development, said in Beijing yesterday that a possible human H5N1 vaccine developed by Chinese scientists is now ready for clinical trials.

Yin Weidong, the principal vaccine researcher, said lab tests had found the vaccine to be safe and effective in mice. Samples have been submitted to the State Food and Drug Administration for clinical test approval, the first-phase of which would begin in late November.

Human testing of an H5N1 vaccine in the US was announced in August, and the largest UK drugs company GlaxoSmithKline said in October its vaccine may be tested by the end of the year. The development of a vaccine for another strain of the virus, H7N1, was announced last month in Europe.

(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily November 15, 2005)

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