Effect Measure

Fujian-strain: what’s in a name?

Rodney King was the African American made famous when his violent arrest by the Los Angeles Police Department was videotaped by a bystander. The acquittal of the arresting officers in 1991 set off three days of civil disorder. In a bid to stop the rioting, King appeared in front of television cameras and asked, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” Maybe we should send Mr. King to China to ask the same question of scientists squabbling about whether there was an unreported new strain of bird flu (H5N1) widely circulating there:

“Instead of having a battle in the media … we encourage the scientists from the Chinese government and from Hong Kong and elsewhere to sit round a table and go over all these details,” said Henk Bekedam, WHO’s China representative.


Chinese officials and scientists rejected a paper published last week by Hong Kong and U.S. scientists who said a new vaccine-resistant “Fujian-like” H5N1 strain had emerged in poultry in China and may spread across Asia and Europe. (Reuters)

In particular, Chinese scientists vigorously denied that the “new strain” was not prevented by the currently used poultry vaccine, and might even have promoted the emergence of a vaccine resistant strain. In rebutting the charge, however, they haven’t provided any counter data or evidence. In science it isn’t enough to assert something. You are expected to support it with evidence and the accepted place to do that is in the scientific literature.

At the same time there is some feeling the differences are less scientific than terminological:

A dispute between China and the authors of a paper on bird flu centers on the name of the strain identified, not its existence, scientists said on Friday, adding China’s vaccination programs were not to blame for the strain’s emergence.

China had rejected findings in a paper published in the U.S. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that a vaccine-resistant strain of H5N1 bird flu the paper’s authors called the “Fujian-like virus” was circulating in the country.

But officials from the World Health Organization indicated that China does accept its existence, but takes issue with its being named after its southern province as well as other details in the paper on the circumstances of its evolution. (Reuters)

WHO is making nice about all this.

Scientists agreed during the meetings that the strain, which has been called the Fujian virus or the Clade III virus, among other names, is not new, Dr. David Heymann, the World Health Organization’s acting assistant general for communicable diseases, told a news conference Friday.

Heymann said that to avoid confusion there should be an international working group established to find a standardized name for it.

“It is very important that the naming of viruses doesn’t stigmatize countries, regions or peoples,” he said.


The paper also said China’s current poultry vaccines appeared to be ineffective against the so-called Fujian strain. It suggested that China’s aggressive vaccination program caused the virus to mutate into a more virulent form – a theory which Heymann disputed.

He said there was “no evidence that links the emergence of the strain with the vaccination of poultry in China.” (AP)

It isn’t reported Heymann gave any evidence to support that view, either. Maybe he doesn’t have to prove something didn’t happen, but in this case it seems to be a rather important question, either way, and we would hope there would be more evidence than dueling statements– either way.

So WHO now wants to take another look at the international conventions for naming influenza viruses (for an explanation of the current system, see your entry for at The Flu Wiki), prompted by this episode.

Somehow, though, I don’t think it means “we will all get along” from now on.


  1. #1 mary in hawaii
    December 10, 2006

    Strictly speaking, a vaccination program would not “cause” a virus to mutate anyway, would it? It might help select for the prevalence of a strain that was already around, and already resistant naturally to that vaccine, by eliminating the competition, so to speak, of the other clades that were not vaccine resistant. But that’s not the same thing.

  2. #2 revere
    December 10, 2006

    MiH: Depends what you mean by “cause.” If you mean, “but for the vaccination campaign” the strain wouldn’t be prevalent, then this qualifies. If you mean, “directed evolution,” then you are right.

  3. #3 mary in hawaii
    December 10, 2006

    That’s what I said, “it might select for the prevalence of a strain already around.” which is not the same thing as to “cause” a mutation (what you term directed evolution) which according to Darwin doesn’t happen…but maybe these researchers worked for Lamark?

  4. #4 The Chicken Resistance
    December 10, 2006

    Ha, Lamarck!! How did those devious researchers sneak that past the peer review? In fact, how did they sneak it only into your copy….

    You have to wonder if the people from the WHO and the Chinese government have even read the PNAS paper.

    The paper clearly indicates that there has been a shift in the population of H5N1 virus, at least in southern China, and that the so-called “Fujian-like” strain has become dominant. They say the clade has been “previously uncharacterized” they do not call it a new virus. Look at the trees and the statement is hard to argue with. The Chinese government says that there are viruses from 2004 that “are related” to this Fujian-like variant – well where is the data.

    It also seems to be overlooked that the authors state in the paper that “The mechanism for the emergence and prevalence of FJ-like H5N1 variant is still unknown.” The most they say regarding vaccination is that it “may have helped to select for the FJ-like sublineage” and “may be associated with immune escape from the current vaccine strain in poultry”. This is hardly conclusive stuff and certainly sounds preliminary to me (notice all the mays?), so I have trouble understanding how people seem to conclude that the authors said the strain was “caused” by vaccination or that it was “vaccine resistant.”

    But of course, a vaccination program has never caused a population to shift in the past. Surely, the emergence and dominance of any control measure resistant strain in a population resulting from the control measure is pure hyperbole and has absolutely no evidence in any scientific literature. Right??

    But the real elephant in the room was best summarized in the paper.

    “Genetic analysis revealed that an H5N1 influenza variant had emerged and become predominant in each of the provinces, replacing those previously established multiple sublineages in different regions of southern China.”


    “The prevalence of H5N1 viruses in southern China has increased when compared with the period July 2004 to June 2005. A winter-seasonal peak was observed from October 2005 to March 2006 as in previous years, during which H5N1 influenza viruses were isolated in each province tested. However, an extension of the peak season was observed in April to June 2006 because isolation rates remained high in these warmer months.”

    To me, this was the major point of the paper and seems to be the only bit that is not contested, although the authors were initially damned as liars for this as well.

    The authors are being criticized based on what their critics have said and not on their own words. But at least they’re arguing their points in the public arena and allowing for their data to be peer reviewed. As revere pointed out in this, prove it (not as eloquently as this though), rather than making your case in the media without having to present any real data.

    As you can see by the comments made by the head of the Association of HIV infected children in the Tripoli 6 case that when a gov’t views scientific data that contradicts the stated position of a gov’t the messenger is attacked!

    Vive la resistance du poulet!

    PS. Lamarck gets a bad rap. He made significant contributions to evolutionary biology and was often attacked and discredited for his work. During his lifetime his views were not accepted. But, as Charles Darwin wrote in defense of Lamarck, “Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions on the subject excited much attention. . . he first did the eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition.”

  5. #5 Jon Singleton
    December 11, 2006

    Evolution is such a bizarre concept. Think ’bout the US and Australian (AmericanOz) culture for example — a huge toxic carpark/showroom with “shit for brains” (primarily white) idiots dry humpin’ their glammy new SUVs, whilst Dubya-Howard yabs on the tv as if seven hundred thousand dead Iraqis never even existed.

    So, a gay dude like me considers a deadly transgenic pathogen like H5N1 (the 21st century’s Frankenstein’s Monster) a logical “directed expression” of a hetero AmericanOz economic (corporate and suburban-consumer) culture so frackin’ arrested it (((DESIRES))) to kill itself in the most painful way imaginable — oh yes, take a squizz at this article from the ISIS website…

    ISIS Press Release 28/11/06 — GM Soya Fed Rats: Stunted, Dead, or Sterile

    Excerpt: “Female rats fed genetically modified (GM) soya produced excessive numbers of severely stunted pups with over half of the litter dying within three weeks, and the surviving pups are sterile…

    Evidence of GM hazards has been emerging since the 1980s, which should have halted the development of many GM crops. By now, our regulators should be answering a charge of criminal negligence at the very least in continuing with their campaign of denial and misrepresentation, while failing to impose a ban on further releases of all GM crops until and unless they have been proven safe by thorough independent investigations.”

  6. #6 M. Randolph Kruger
    December 11, 2006

    One quick thing Revere and then I press on. Rodney King was an American of African descent rather than African American. I am not a European American. I am American first and all of that other stuff afterwards. We tend to forget this in our little melting pot here and the fastest way to ensure that we all get along is to first treat each and everyone with the respect you at least give your dog. If he is a bad dog, you don’t say he is a mean black dog-just a mean bastard. R. King was such a sweet guy before his beating and arrest. Maybe we should send him as I consider him to be a mean bastard previously convicted drug dealer. Probably fit in well in China.

    Onward to the naming thing. This is something that isnt new-stigmatizing names of bugs. SARS name was fought over by Ms.Chen for weeks as the virus rolled across China and only because it was closely related to the Special Administrative Region (SAR) name. The connotations brought glowing thoughts to the people of the world of China. I already had such glowing thoughts of my Chinese brothers anyway.

    I think we ought to name them all Bubba Gump with numbers behind them. Then we can say that for no particular reason, it killed this many and that many which are listed behind the name because we were stupid. Then the numbers will be remembered later on and the tally will tell how well we did against them. Stupid is that stupid does.

    As for China, Webster was adamant almost a year point five ago that IF the Chinese vaccines are so good as they tout, then why are we continously seeing new strains emerging, new resistant strains in poultry that have been vaccinated? The vaccines that they are using create happy, healthy poultry that are carriers of whatever endemic strain is out there. Vaccinated poultry seems to be really getting whacked in Thailand, China and Indon. Sure unvaccinated get sick, but they die and it cuts in part the vector chain. They might eat a sick chicken and then they die too, but it continues to cut he chain. Intervention likely IS causing the spread of the new bugs but as MIH indicates its not the direct cause. Nature does that and that gives my Chinese friends their out on responsibility. We just cant say for sure that is what is causing it. Prove that and you get a Nobel.

    I know more than enough to be dangerous, but they are giving them I believe H3N2 vaccine. How do you create mutation in any environment? You change the environment that they are in and they adapt. Be it chemical (Jon) or have them become sick on their own and then respond with (crappy) vaccine. We might be engineering our own demise. On thing is sure to fix it though, dead chickens tell no tale . Wild birds either die or develop immunity naturally. We all like our fluffy white chicken breast or Kentucky Fried, but what happens when that shitty vaccine enters a human body from a vaccinated bird? We might engineer a vaccine and then find its not worth a damn. Eating vaccinated poultry. Another source of mutation? I dont know. It seems to me that to do anything other than incinerate them is a bad idea. Save an industry? Have to have people to buy your product now dont you?

    Chickens will inherit the earth and in a billion years dig up something they will name Tyrannosaurus Revericus Homonidae, noted for its fierce defense of the species and appendages that were found near a piece of plastic that read Q W E R T Y ……

  7. #7 crfullmoon
    December 11, 2006

    “We all like our fluffy white chicken breast or Kentucky Fried”

    -Well, not *all* of us, nope 😉

    (By the way; do the Olympic teams have Continuity of Operations Plans
    for an influenza pandemic?)

    It is very important that viruses don’t endanger countries, cross regions, and kill or disable people.
    Complaining when people are saying a virus came out of your closet, or, you think the wording (and evidence?) might imply it did; protesting “too much”, wastes time when lives are being lost and viruses are busy replicating.

  8. #8 revere
    December 11, 2006

    Randy: People can call themselves what they want and I usually respect what they want. For a long time they were called blacks but they aren’t black. Nor am I an American. I am a human being who lives in America and has citizenship here. But I still call myself an American.

  9. #9 Pixie
    December 12, 2006

    This week, while everyone is concentrating on China, we are hearing bits from the local Indonesian news sources about how avian influenza in birds also appears to be changing there.

    Some reports have ventured to guess there has been a change to low-path in some of the virus (or some such kind of thing, from what we can make of the translations). We are hearing, in fact, of aysmptomatic birds being increasingly found in flocks otherwise infected with H5N1 and also of more atypical symptoms in symptomatic birds. News reports also have quoted officials there as speculating that something has “changed” in the NA.

    Right now, I am just happy that Indonesia is willing, at least for the moment, to discuss the new things it is seeing the H5N1 virus do in its poultry. Indonesia also vaccinates enormous numbers of birds. We can hope that transparency about any links between vaccination and changes in the virus, and open communication about it, will set the standard for how countries can productively share information about a subject that all of them who vaccinate their poultry may need to face. And pretty much everybody vaccinates their poultry.