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Is China Covering up a New Bird Flu Epidemic?

Posted by: Frederik Balfour on February 3, 2009

Is China covering up a new outbreak of bird flu? Certainly there seems to be very strong evidence it is. There have already been eight reported cases of humans contracting the potential deadly H5N1 virus, from which five people have died this year. And despite the fact that Hong Kong officials have been finding dead birds infected with the virus washing up onto its shores in recent days from the mainland, China has not made any official statement concerning an outbreak among birds. At least one Hong Kong health adviser to the government, Lo Wing-lok, says the government “just isn’t admitting” to the problem according to Bloomberg.

If this is true, both Chinese health officials and the state media must share the blame. Surely after so many human infections people must be asking questions of how the caught the virus, as human to human transmission is highly unlikely. But China has a horrible track record of squelching bad news at the cost of public safety, usually with the complicity of the local media. Back in 2003 Guangdong provincials covered up the SARS epidemic for 22 weeks before informing neighboring Hong Kong. By that time it was too late, and nearly 300 people died of SARS in Hong Kong, as did hundreds more worldwide. You would have thought that China had learned its lesson back then.

But as last summer’s melamine milk scandal showed, China is still unwilling to inform the public of health hazards in a responsible and timely manner, with tragic consequences. Had the problem come to light sooner, the lives of four infants who died from poison milk might have been saved, and while hundreds of thousands of other kids might have avoided contracting kidney disease.
How many more people must die before Beijing takes the muzzle off its health officials and reporters?

Reader Comments

Helen Moore

February 3, 2009 8:52 AM

I think it's one big cover up!! Everybody on that online bird flu forum is talking about it at

Crazy stuff...


February 3, 2009 9:11 AM

Whatever on earth made you say "human-to-human transmission is unlikely"?

Human-to human transmisison has occurred in many nations the past several years.

H5N1 transmission has only not been, "efficient" or "sustained" (aka: "Pandemic Outbreak") because it is being Fought; with 2005-definiton Phase 4 & 5 "Rapid Response and Containment" operations; using local, national, and international resources: BSL-3 level PPE for caregivers, movement restrictions, "Tamiflu blankets" to cases and contacts, people monitoring & animal cull zones (sloppy though those sometimes are).

H5N1 seems quite "efficient" at infecting people where no timely antiviral intervention was made (starting with undiagnosed index cases that die at home and are buried before the second cases get taken to a hospital - and those first cases are never tested and never counted, and, human-to-human denied because no "official" "evidence" was assembled).

Even those recently-reported China cases had that happen, and, at least one nurse fell sick, but responded to Tamiflu (which still works IF started soon enough - but look; all the new "seasonal" flus have the gene snip that makes Tamiflu useless.
Time to prepare is running out)
they just don't make it into "official reports".

The financial sector Enrons and Madoffs are boyscouts compared to the level of deception going on around H5N1.

Why is H5N1 out of China "unprecedented"?

Why do the militaries (US and elsewhere) not seem to include H5N1 Pandemic Flu as a "Biological Attack" threat?

It certainly would be harder to trace, and it certainly isn't what any nation has prepared its public to withstand, often delaying under poor guidance by compromised "trusted" institutions.

Why acquiesce to arguments against travel bans or border closures or quarantines;

why downplay (or, disagree with virologists, and deny!) that H5N1 can go pandemic at current (fatal untreated with an effective antiviral in time) CFR?

Would people go along with plans to keep borders open and attempt business-as-normal if the word "flu" was taken out and, "blackpox" or, "anthrax' or, "airbone-Ebola" attack substituted?

The public thinks they know what "flu" is - they do not hear enough (in the US at least) about H5N1; the media doesn't cover cases and coverups, nor remind them that we're in a Panflu Year Alert and supposed to be ready to cope with "no vaccine" and long-forseen supply chain disruptions. (Places can't even handle an ice storm!)

Killer Flu Year Alert was avoided in public by all levels of govt, and, censored from being a presidential campaign issue (and that has compromised our national security - who benefits?).

The US CDC, under Gerberding, has, by telling "planners" pandemic would have an unscientifically-low CFR, based on say, the 1968 pandemic, instead of on H5N1, (because otherwise it's, "too hard"!)
put millions of lives and my very nation at risk.

Everyone in power is trying the "Big Lie" - but- not giving full and fair disclosure to the public does Not "prevent panic" - it did not "protect the Economy" (how could keeping the public in the dark do that; all the govt leaders and rich corporate CEO's knew we're in an H5N1 Panflu Year alert; they've all tried to get while the getting was possible).

It only has prevented Preparedness; it has only delayed and ensured "panic"; when young healthy people people die of panflu, when people die of all other causes who would not under non-pandemic conditions, and, when critical needs cannot be met due to, "scarce resources on hand". Who benefits in the long run?

There has never been a "flu" so virulent.
(There are now Ebola strains with lower CFRs than the H5N1 that has us in Panflu Year Alert!)

Why all the talk about "birds"? H5N1 also infects more Mammals than any other flu ever has; where is the mammal testing? (And where are the warnings to the public about mammals spreading H5N1?)

Rodents, cats, dogs, pigs, primates, "potentially any carnivore" the FAO said, back in early 2006.

This has been known by scientists, and some govt officials, for years earlier; but officials keep not mentioning it to the press and public, and, there must be a "vaccine race" on; for strategic purposes, because labs aren't making all the H5N1 sequences public, even though H5N1 is the gravest threat the planet has ever faced, and sharing information would save time and lives.

Under Gerberding even the US "atypical" flu deaths from so-called "Brisbane" strains - the full sequences aren't being released - even in one case refusing next-of-kin's request to do so.

China got control of the WHO after the human-to-human-to-human cluster in Karo Indonesia, and Dir.Gen. Lee's sudden death on the heels of that cluster; early 2006. Then, the Phase definitions were re-written; to stay at 3. (And, delay key preparedness actions by nations, states, and communities - due to short-sighted, "political and ecnomic pressures" no doubt - including trying to avoid impacting Bejing's Olympics). The US public sure never heard about the, "US State Dept H5N1 factsheet" since it went online July, 2006 - and, they still travel now with no idea pandemic may start "at any time", (and there have been human cases somewhere about every week) strand them "for the duration", with "no" food, water, nor medicine from their embassies). Their taxes paid for that and many other sites they don't even know exist, "warning" them.

The "Pandemic Alert Phase" is a Trojan Horse at this point (latest "draft" says: 3 is Now and 4 is Pandemic; not much press on that, eh?).

Have your officials readied your commmunity since we are in the last step before H5N1 Pandemic breakout?

They shan't get any better warnings, and preparation for a 1 to 3 year catastrophe takes time (and, "just-in-time" education of the public - after the virus is in town- has failed every nation that stalled real education attempts until then).
"Just-in-time" "Just-Isn't-There".

H5N1 has probably been infecting humans in China since before the 18 confirmed human cases were reported in HK in 1997.

Don't wait for China to have a free press!

Do what your own press and politicians have neglected to tell you and start getting better prepared to cope during a quite-possibly 100% fatal Panflu Year, with "scarce resources" and "no outside aid possible" from officials, and, at least 1 to 3 years of global supply chain disruptions.

Ask for border closures or entry/exit quarantines; find ways to move critical supplies without moving infection.
H5N1 is too virulent to not plan for true worst-case first; this is a Pass/Fail event; "halfway prepared" on mission-critical issues won't do.

Involve the public in forming workable local contingency preparations; outside eyes are needed; there has been too much "Emperor's New Clothes" to date by people more concerned with staying employed now than having ways to actually be able to reduce suffering and deaths and keep critical systems functioning. "Mitigation" isn't possible unless grassroot preparedness at home happens, and public is not just involved for token "lifeboat" thought excercises, like, "Who should get scarce vaccine?" (that doesn't exist) rather than, "How will you cope if families need to shelter-in place at home and non-essential gathering banned? If supply chains and utilities are disrupted?
If for the first time in your lives responders have to deal with something contagious Before symptoms and highly virulent?"

Citizens seem to care more for everyone's future than those currently in govt. Power corrupts.
It is not true "there's nothing we can do", or, that "the public can't afford to prepare"; we can't afford not to!

See -other citizens can make versions that work for their own situations.

Govts must be ready to protect borders, and, citizens and essential personnel's families be prepared to be able to mitigate pandemic impacts.


February 3, 2009 10:21 AM

China got away with the SARs scandal(murders) because the United States never held their feet to the fire. America should have put the boots to China a long time ago. China now owns the US economy because of our greedy corporations. I would not believe the Chinese if they told me water was wet.

Nigel Thomas

February 3, 2009 11:46 AM

At least China has been reporting on the bird-to-human infections (at least some of them), but how bad is the bird-to-bird infection is anybody's guess.

I guess we'll be finding out soon enough. They can't keep these things under wraps for long.

We need to keep pandemic preparedness at the forefront of every business manager's mind. It won't go away so better start preparing.

For free references, resources and to join their free pandemic preparedness eCourse certification program go to Bird Flu Manual Online or, if you need more comprehensive tutorials, tools and templates, consider Bird Flu D-I-Y eManual for your pandemic preparedness.


February 3, 2009 11:52 AM

I wonder why this writer Frederik Balfour haven't caught it and died yet if there is a New Bird Flu Epidemic.


February 3, 2009 12:23 PM

Foothills is right on. The UN, WHO, and the US all gave China a pass on their despicable behavior, hiding SARS information for months from the rest of the world.


February 3, 2009 1:09 PM

Cr - good point and limited Human to human transmission has happened.

There could be more H5N1 stories but with the earthquake China learned the world can help. Openess is best. Indonesia got shut out, not helped, by refusing to share samples.

Sadly H5N1 continues to spread like a bad weed from country to country with economic impacts. HiPath H5N1 might go world wide - Low Path H5N1 already has.

If you tink you can do something about global warming know you can do alot about this. Be prepared not scared.

Official Gov citizen site - there are others for OSHA, DoD and DoE.

Citizen groups with blogs and answers are at Flutrackers, AvianFluTalk, and There is a group for everyone.



February 3, 2009 2:27 PM

This article views China in a monolithic way and that is one problem in considering whether health officials are covering it up or not. As the melamine scandal and SARS shows local officials tend to cover it up at the expensive of the public and it spreads before a national health emergency is declared. The best way to see if there is a cover-up would be to examine local reports.


February 3, 2009 4:09 PM

I truely believe that we could be in for this.We need to start doing alot of thinking what we touch and where we go.
It might sound a little over the edge but
believe me I would reather error on the side of caution then be caught with something that could kill me or my family.


February 3, 2009 4:39 PM

Think about supply chain disrupts-everything, not just disease, comes from China.

We need to plant our own food in our own yards or wherever we can and find local water sources.

Lakes can carry H5N1,if there are diseased birds in the water.

CCP lies

February 3, 2009 4:47 PM

SARS should have been important lesson for Beijing Gov't but it seems they still want to hide about H5N1, WHO should stand firm in investigating instead of pussy footing around!! YOu can't trust this communist gov't which has no hesitation of risking the lives of general public, after all they have 1.3 billion of them.


February 3, 2009 4:47 PM

CR seems to know exactly what he/she is talking about. The US and other governments need to stop covering up what is an extremely volatile virus and inform their respective publics accordingly. As well as working together on how to eventually cure this deadly disease. With so many virologists in the world I believe this is quite possible. H5N1 does not discriminate and doesn't care what country it hits, it doesn't go by a "pollitically correct" mentality nor does it give a hoot whether a person is poor, middle class or rich. It will strike whatever and whoever is in it's path until it is either stopped by a vaccine or it runs its coarse.


February 3, 2009 8:44 PM

The number of new cases is pretty alarming. The last thing we need is a bird flu pandemic in the midst of a world-wide recession.
You can download a free guide to pandemic bird flu preparedness at


February 4, 2009 1:10 AM

Oh, no, another cover-up to save faces, typical Chinese habit. ;(

Ciprian Pater

February 4, 2009 3:21 AM

If the pandemic starts, China will be the worst place of all to start with!


February 4, 2009 9:54 AM

Ignorant readers believe everything this article says, or anything media says about China. If you never lived in China, or even visited China lately, the media will mislead you for sure. I was in Shanghai, China this past October, I was planning to visit Hainan Island, but leant from the Chinese news that there is a local pandemic, and canceled my trip. Is this a cover up?


February 4, 2009 11:10 AM

every week, i was wondering what anti-chinese propaganda and smearing businessweek will write about and publish. i just found this week's article! brilliant. keep it up businessweek! judging from the comments received, your articles definitely appeal to those who hate the chinese and everything china. like the comment about saving faces, "typical chinese habit", etc. super!

Doug S.

February 4, 2009 2:11 PM

Article seems sensational. I agree there has been cover-ups in the past with SARS but there's no indication there's a cover up here. They've been reporting human cases. In addition "...China has not made any official statement concerning an outbreak among birds." is simply not true as they reported an outbreak in poultry in Jiangsu province in December. Pheer mongering at it's best.


February 7, 2009 11:06 AM

I would not believe the Chinese if they told me water was wet". What a self claimed psycho! You are exactly that type of fool the controlled media in US wants. Even worse than a willing fool, you are an active participating cooperator. Mad dog like Frederik Balfour barks for living, this isn't the only time it barked, I expect more to come. Congratulations, foothill, the psycho just joined the mad dog pack. Just imagine a mad dog lead a psycho in the neighbourhood street. Its time to call animal/psycho controls, BW, are you listening? Oh, no, looks like a bigger mad dog is coming!

Luke Thomas

February 14, 2009 2:35 PM

Bird flu is also karma. The countries that are getting it eat cat and dog meat. I hope the Chinese goverment completely covers it up I hate those chinese cat eating perverts. Guangdong China eats 10,000 cats a DAY-they are the most disgusting humans(?) to walk on this earth. I say HOORAY to bird flu-the cat killers deserve it.


February 15, 2009 1:13 AM

I would like to ask Zhimin where and what he read about a pandemic in Hainan Island. My daughter and 8 year old granddaughter are living in China, Changzing, Zhejiang on a 10 month teaching contract. They just came back from a 4 day vacation to Hainan Island. They visited Monkey Island and my daughter was badly bitten on the arm by a large monkey. She is in the process of getting a series of 5 shots. My daughter sent pictures of my granddaughter holding a parrot on her arm and another with three monkeys, one on her lap and two on her shoulder.(this was before her mom was bitten) What pandemic in Hainan Island are you talking about? Thank you, I am concerned for their safety, but also don't want to overreact.

frederik balfour

February 17, 2009 2:41 AM

Henry Miller, a former influenza virus researcher from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution has written an opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal suggesting that numbers on H5N1 cases are grossly underestimated by officials and he says Beijing's current approach is "ominously similar to the Chinese government's stonewalling in response to the 2002 appearance of SARS."

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