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November 20, 2009

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Doctor raises doubts over swine flu toll

CHINA'S health watchdog is encouraging the public and news media to keep a close watch over how it controls the spread of swine flu after a prominent medical expert raised concern that fatality figures for the disease may be underreported.

Zhong Nanshan, a doctor based in south China's Guangdong Province, said in an interview published yesterday that he doubted the accuracy of the current official death toll from the H1N1 outbreak. Zhong is a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and gained wide public acclaim for his outspoken views during China's SARS outbreak in 2003.

"I just don't believe that nationwide there have been only 53 H1N1 deaths," Zhong told the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily.

That figure was the latest count issued on the Website of the Ministry of Health.

Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua urged local health administrators to report swine flu facts and figures correctly.

Any patient who dies during treatment after being identified as an H1N1 victim should be reported as a death case despite any other simultaneous health problems, Deng said.

He was responding to a comment by Zhong that, "Some areas have not been testing deaths from severe pneumonia and have been treating them as cases of ordinary pneumonia without a question."

The health ministry has dispatched nine task forces to check on authorities in 12 provincial areas, including Hebei, Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, on their H1N1 control and prevention.

Staff members were working with flu cases and giving instructions for therapy in critical situations, Deng said.

Zhong said China's peak flu season will start in December and last until February, including Spring Festival when Chinese families gather to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

China has been preparing for the possibility of wider outbreaks. More than 18.2 million people have received free swine flu vaccinations, according to the ministry.


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