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China to Send WHO H5N1 Virus Samples
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China is preparing to send the latest samples of human bird flu virus to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.

The announcement came days after the WHO complained China was not sharing samples of the H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus since May 2006 even after several requests. "As requested by the WHO, we will send two recent samples of the virus and one from a Beijing patient who was infected in 2003," an MOH official surnamed Ma said.

Five new cases have been reported in China, apart from the 2003 one that came to light only last year, since it last shared a bird flu virus sample with the WHO.

"The process of handing over the samples is still underway, and 'biological safety' has prompted the MOH to ensure that they are dispatched safely and smoothly," a ministry statement said.

Given the extreme caution with which dangerous virus samples are handled and the strict, time-consuming procedures on both sides, the handover usually takes several months, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention's press officer Wang Lin said.

Though it's not mandatory for member states to share virus samples with the WHO, China has always sent them to the world health body. It has already sent six samples of the human bird flu virus, along with all the relevant information, to WHO's designated laboratories. Two of them were dispatched in December 2005 and the others in May 2006.

Upholding the principle of openness, transparency and cooperation, the government has always worked closely with the international community as part of the global effort to prevent a bird flu epidemic, the MOH statement said.

WHO communications team leader Joanna Brent said she had been confident of China's quick and positive response because the virus has undergone a change and posed a greater risk to humans.

(China Daily April 20, 2007)

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