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Volume 11, Number 3—March 2005


Rumor Surveillance and Avian Influenza H5N1

Gina Samaan*†Comments to Author , Mahomed Patel†, Babatunde Olowokure*, Maria C. Roces*, Hitoshi Oshitani*, and the World Health Organization Outbreak Response Team
Author affiliations: *Western Pacific Regional Office of the World Health Organization, Manila, Philippines; †National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Canberra, Australia

Main Article


Avian influenza H5N1 rumors, Western Pacific Regional Office of World Health Organization (WHO), 2004

Rumor (source, date) Verification outcome (verification date) Public health action
A poultry farm outside Phnom Penh had 500 chicken deaths with no identified cause (Dow Jones International News, 1/21/04). True. Poultry deaths result of avian influenza H5N1 infection (1/24/04). Thailand banned importation of poultry from Cambodia (1/24/04).
Japan supplied stocks of oseltamivir to be used as prophylaxis.
WHO supplied personal protective equipment for people involved in culling poultry within a 5-km radius of the affected poultry farm.
Duck deaths in Guangxi, China, with no identified cause (WHO network, 1/26/04). True. Avian influenza H5N1 confirmed (1/28/04). 48 countries banned importation of poultry from China (South China Morning Post, 1/29/04).
WHO invited 2 Dutch experts to assist China contain the outbreak.
14-year-old boy died from respiratory illness in Hong Kong after returning from Guangdong, China (Wenhui Newspaper, 8/2/04). Incorrect. Negative influenza A and SARS tests (21/2/04) Hong Kong reported outcome of the investigation in the media but no public health action was taken (21/2/04).
Persons in 2 Laotian provinces who ate chicken died of natural causes (WHO Network, 2/6/04). True (2/11/04). WHO fast-tracked and released draft guidelines on food safety (2/12/04). These guidelines were distributed to ministries of health and to other health authorities, and posted on the WHO Web site (
Four pigs tested positive for avian influenza H5N1 in Vietnam (Reuters Health Online, 2/6/04). Incorrect. Virus isolated from nasal swabs not indicative of influenza infection (2/6/04). Media officers from WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization independently held media releases to emphasize outcomes of the investigation (2/7/04).
An outbreak of avian influenza H5N1 in a poultry farm 100 km south of Seoul, Korea (South China Morning Post, 1/27/04). True (1/28/04). Virus from the outbreak was analyzed by WHO network laboratories to determine the susceptibility of the strain to antivirals.
The strains tested demonstrated in vitro susceptibility to oseltamivir (
Human case of avian influenza in a German tourist returning from Asia (Washington Times, 1/22/04). Incorrect (1/24/04). WHO issued a press release on the outcome that infection had not spread internationally, so there was no need to shift into the Influenza Pandemic Plan Phase 1 (1/24/04 and 1/26/04).
48 children sick with respiratory illness in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam (WHO network, 8/2/04). Incorrect. Negative influenza tests (9/2/04). No action taken after the rumor verification process was completed.

Main Article

1WHO Western Pacific Region Team: Richard Brown, Maria Roces, Elizabeth Miranda, Peter Cordingley, Karen Shaw, Masahiro Ueno, Kumi Ueno, Lance Jennings, Akira Suzuki, Reiko Sato, Kevin Carroll, and Clara Witt.