BEIJING, May 26 (UPI) - Although China has developed vaccines that block the spread of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu among birds and mammals according to Xinhua news agency, scientists fear the side effects which have been encountered in testing on human subjects. Yet the side effects may be acceptable since scientists in the west have warned that otherwise a possible global pandemic could arise, killing millions.
Among the side effects encountered to date in human volunteers injected with the vaccines, 94% of subjects have developed rudimentary wings which have sprouted from their backbones. Another worrisome side effect is the hardening of the nose and upper lips of most human subjects in the experiments, which doctors speculate may indicate the formation of primitive, bird-like beaks.
Scientists fear that avian flu, which is infectious in birds but does not spread easily among humans, could mutate into a form more capable of passing from animals to people. The H5N1 strain first surfaced in poultry in Hong Kong and China eight years ago and has killed 37 people in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand and four in Cambodia. Global health officials fear it could mutate into a strain that could rival the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed between 20 and 40 million people.
"Experiments show the efficiency rate of the newly developed vaccines in preventing infection by the H5N1 virus is 100 percent," said Zhen Chualan, director of the China National Bird Flu Laboratory. "We are still working on eliminating the side effects, however."
China's Ministry of Agriculture had given its approval and a sales permit for the vaccines, Xinhua reported, without mentioning whether the treatments had been evaluated outside the country.
The agency said supplies of the new vaccines had already been sent to distant western Qinghai province, where China has been scrambling to contain its first breakout since late 2004 after 178 geese were found dead of the H5N1 virus on May 4.
The new vaccines also reportedly prevented the spread of avian flu from migratory birds to waterfowl, which could easily pass the disease to domesticated birds, Xinhua said.
China was willing to provide technical anti-epidemic support to other countries and poultry farms in Vietnam had begun experimenting with the Chinese vaccines, it said.
"Time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic," said Michael Bolsterholm, of the University of Minnesota, on Wednesday in a special section of the journal Nature devoted to avian flu.
"There is a critical need for comprehensive medical and non-medical pandemic planning at the ground level that goes beyond what has been considered so far." Scientists say any bird flu pandemic will likely start in Asia and could kill many millions. New influenza strains have caused pandemics in the past, most recently in 1956-1957 and 1967-1968, killing a combined 4.5 million people.
Xinhua reports that the third most serious side effect of the new vaccines in 70% of human test subjects is the transformation of human hair follicles into feathers, but this problem is easily remedied with regular application of depilatory creams. A smaller percentage of human subjects develop a bird-like walk, and a jerking movement of their head and neck.