HONG KONG – The cover story in the latest issue of the TIME magazine reported the stories of 18 Lifesaving Heroes. Among them was Guan Yi— Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Hong Kong (H.K.U). Guan has specialized in the study of avian flu for years. TIME dubbed him the Bird Flu Hunter for his courage in exposing the source of the avian virus and his dedication to stopping the propagation of the virus.
In an interview with The Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty TV on November 1, Guan said that scientific evidence shows that H5N1, the potent avian virus currently spreading worldwide, originated from southern China and that an avian flu pandemic is imminent. Although exposing the facts brought him into conflict with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and led to the forced closure of his laboratory in mainland China, Guan insisted that efforts in studying the flu virus “must not stop despite the CCP’s persecution.” When asked whether the Chinese authorities had concealed the spread of the avian flu, he said the answer rests entirely on the CCP’s conscience.
Through the research laboratory in Shantou University, Guan and his team have collected and analyzed more than 100,000 samples from birds throughout the country in the last five years. The TIME article praised Guan as “one of the most important influenza experts in the world.” Being proclaimed as a lifesaving hero, Guan Yi said, “This is recognition for the years of hard work by my team members in the University of Hong Kong and Shantou University in China.”
Carrying On Despite Suppression
Lately, Guan’s research has been suppressed by Chinese authorities. He was asked if the TIME award would ease the difficulties of conducting his research in mainland China. “There will not be much effect. I am not going to stop my research even though this conflict has taken its toll and damaged my progress in China. I do as I always do. Efforts to combat the disease can’t be relaxed”.
With regard to the current bird flu outbreak, Guan Yi said, “Overall, it has spread to many areas in Europe and Asia. It could jump directly from birds to humans. As more and more such events occur, then the chance of it spreading from human to human becomes higher. What we are most concerned about is whether it will become a global pandemic- if it really does spread among humans and the virus, which we have tracked for ten years, eventually turns into a pandemic. The virus can be controlled, which has been proved by many successful experiments. For example, the Dutch H7N7, the U.S. H2N2, the Canadian H5N2, and in 1997 several H5N2 outbreaks in Italy, were all highly virulent, but they were controlled. In fact, avian flu influenza often occurs.”
The Bird Flu Viruses Originated in Southern China
He added that, “Because people raise animals unnaturally—putting large numbers of them in small areas, avian-flu viruses could mutate into a form that could spread among animals, triggering a flu pandemic. The key point is why has bird flu occurred just in our area of southern China and has it been there for the last ten years? This is worth considering.”
“I don’t know the reason, but the answer is out there. People should go and ask administrative authorities, not us. As conscientious scientists, we can only investigate the source. For certain things, there is no help even through individual efforts, team efforts or a whole country’s own efforts.”
High Likelihood of Avian Flu Pandemic
Guan pointed out, “Based on all existing scientific evidence, southern China has been the traditional birthplace of influenza, where bird flu is endemic. Hong Kong is just a typical example, where the earliest bird flu occurred in 2001. The Hong Kong bird flu epidemic in 1997 was detected there, but mainland China did not investigate the disease in the country so it did not know of the H5N1 virus.”
Has there been a sign of possible human-to-human transmission? Guan said that transmission from human to human is not hot news because it had already occurred in 2003 and 2004. Though the individual cases of the H5N1 strain passing from birds to humans have been increasing, there is no supporting evidence that humans will be more susceptible to infection with the virus.
Regarding the worldwide bird flu outbreaks in Russia and Europe, Guan said, “There is likely to be a large outbreak of avian flu.” He quoted the World Health Organization (WHO) as saying that, the question is not “whether it would occur, but rather when it would be coming.”
Did The CCP Conceal The Avian Flu Epidemic?
As to whether or not the CCP concealed the avian flu epidemic, Guan says, “That question should have been raised at the press conference held by the State Council on October 31. However the State Council has not authorized me to answer this question. The news of whether it [the CCP] has covered up the epidemic depends totally on the CCP’s conscience and level of responsibility toward the Chinese people.”
Guan, 43, who was born in mainland China but is chiefly based at the H.K.U., dares to speak with great self-confidence. When avian-flu viruses with H5N1 occurred in Hong Kong in 1997, Guan and his H.K.U. colleagues helped to trace the origin of the new, more dangerous strain of H5N1 back to a single Guangdong goose. Guan and his team published their scientific results on the avian flu viruses on July 7 in the journal Nature, concluding that the genetic markers of the viruses found in the Qinghai outbreak pointed to southern China as the likely source.
After this publication, China's Ministry of Agriculture criticized Guan's conclusions and the quality of his research. The Ministry also claimed that the Shantou lab had failed to maintain safety standards imposed under new rules established for mainland labs and the lab was forcibly shut down.